Got to grind: Portland Timbers hope newfound mentality paves way to postseason

BEAVERTON, Ore. – All season long, Caleb Porter has said, more or less, the best defense is a good offense.

If you’re pushing high and the other team is under pressure, the less your own backline and goalkeeper have to do. And that’s a good thing.

But after they went ahead 1-0 early in last Friday’s game against the Colorado Rapids, the game played out in a way that didn’t allow the Timbers to play defense by pressing for a second goal. They just didn’t quite have their usual offensive flow, and Colorado had a lot of time to throw numbers forward and play direct.

But in weathering the storm, Porter got what he called a “breakthrough” defensive performance in earning a clean sheet against a Colorado side that had scored at least one goal in their last nine MLS games.

Porter said he’s been looking for an organized and disciplined game form his back line, and that’s exactly what he got Friday night.

“We’ve talked about being able to make plays in the box late to get results because we’ve fallen short on that in several games and it’s cost us points,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “So it was a positive that we were able to buckle down and grind that type of result out.”

There was a lot about Portland’s game that screamed maturity.

Back in the lineup were veteran defenders Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Jack Jewsbury. With Jewsbury at right back, that left 19-year-old Alvas Powell, who is more effective getting forward, on the bench. Danso replaced second-year pro Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who is talented but often times has lapses in concentration.

Even Porter’s lineup decision at striker, with recently signed 22-year-old Maximiliano Urruti earning his first start less than two weeks after joining the team, was with an eye on defensive pressure. Porter said after Monday’s session at the team’s training facility that their match tracker showed that Urruti covered even more ground than holding midfielder Diego Chara.

It was Urruti’s pressure on Colorado defender Drew Moor that led to a turnover and Portland’s only goal.

“The biggest thing we’re going to take from that game is we defended very well,” Porter said.

He continued: “Although it wasn’t as comprehensive in the attack as we would have liked, you can’t always rely on scoring goals to win games. Sometimes you can’t find goals. Sometimes it’s a choppy game in MLS. … If it’s a game where we’re not on the ball a ton we still know we can grind a result out and limit the opponents’ chances.”

Porter said the key was striking a “balance” between still getting out on their front foot, but also knowing when to fall back when Colorado pressed forward. In the end, they allowed just one shot on goal.

“It wasn’t by design to sit and absorb, but being able to adjust when the game calls for that is important at this level because that’s the way games go when you’re sitting on a 1-0 lead,” Porter said.

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.