Despite slow start, Caleb Porter says Portland Timbers still ahead of 2013 pace

PORTLAND, Ore. – It's true that the Portland Timbers’ start to their highly anticipated 2014 MLS season may be a bit underwhelming.

After all, the Timbers had all kinds of expectations with nearly their entire roster coming back and a few key additions thrown in. So playing the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire to two 1-1 draws may not have been what anybody expected.

But looking at it from head coach Caleb Porter’s perspective, the Timbers are actually ahead of where they were last year. The points certainly say he’s right.

“It reminds me a little bit of last year, and we’re even ahead of last year; we lost [the second] game last year,” Porter said following Sunday’s 1-1 draw against the Fire. “It took us a while to get going, and we had slow starts to games, at times, last year. But we’re playing well. That, for me, is the biggest positive.”

After a thrilling season-opening 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls a year ago, highlighted by a Timbers rally from 3-1 down, Portland dropped their second game, 2-1, to the Montreal Impact.

What followed next, however, was a franchise-record 15-game unbeaten streak that saw the Timbers surge to the best regular season in the Western Conference. And with the positives Porter pointed to, namely possession and number of chances, perhaps Portland are in line for a similar run.

“The positives are we’ve come from behind to get a point in both games,” he said, referring to two game-tying goals by new forward Gaston Fernandez. “Also, in the second half, we’ve played very well both games. Both games, we dominated the game in terms of possession. We had more shots in both games. We’ve come from behind both games. That’s another positive trend.”

Porter went on to say, however, that the positive trends aren’t without negatives.

He wasn’t pleased with his team’s start in Sunday’s matinee, which led to a Jeff Larentowicz penalty kick in the first half, and said he “lit a fire under them at halftime.”

And then there’s their finishing problem.

Despite 36 attempts on goal in two games, they’ve put nine on target and netted two goals.

“If you’re dominating the game, then those chances will come,” Timbers left back Michael Harrington said. “Like in the second half, we had so many chances and eventually you’re going to score. We just want to focus on everybody doing their job, playing better as a team and that’ll translate into wins.”