Portland Timbers blow late lead, remain winless: "There’s nothing we can do but get back to work"

PORTLAND, Ore. – As frustration continues to build in Portland Timbers camp, head coach Caleb Porter turned his attention to an unexpected weakness following Saturday night’s 1-1 draw against Chivas USA.

Unlike in last week’s 4-4 draw against the Seattle Sounders, when the Timbers attack appeared ready to awake from its early season malaise and return to their 2013 from, Porter said their latest shortcoming was a failure to keep the ball after Will Johnson’s seventh-minute goal that ultimately led to a late Chivas USA equalizer.

“That’s a big part of our philosophy is to control the game and dictate the flow with possession of the ball,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “And I’m not sure why we gave the ball away, it was one of the main points I made at halftime. We had to do better with the ball. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to score and forcing things a bit, but there were certainly some guys that were sloppy in possession for whatever reason.”

Portland came out against the team that finished at the bottom of the Western Conference last year as the aggressor. And after some slick ball movement at the top of the area built up to Johnson’s goal, they led 1-0 and appeared to be well on the way to their first win of the season.

But after the goal, Portland took their foot off the gas. And Chivas USA controlled large swaths of the middle portion of the game and finished with a 52-percent possession advantage, while Portland completed just 72 percent of their passes. The Rojiblancos also outshot Portland 13-8.

“One of two things has to happen, you either get the second goal or you manage the game 1-0,” Porter said. “And we were able to last year win a lot of games 1-0. We won a few games where it was more than that, but the majority of the games in this sport are 1-0 one way or another. Sometimes you don’t find the second goal, and we didn’t, but we have to win that game 1-0 if we don’t.”

It was the defense – other than letting Erick Torres run free for his 79th-minute goal – that showed well, following last week’s mistake-ridden performance against the Sounders. Porter benched Argentine Norberto Paparatto, one of the team’s major offseason acquisitions, in favor of veteran Mamadou Danso and gave young right back Alvas Powell his second consecutive start in place of Jack Jewsbury.

Porter said the backline’s performance “was much better overall.”

“They made one mistake and were punished by it, but I thought overall [the backline] had a very solid game,” Porter said.

Now, Porter is faced with the task of putting both sides of the ball together with a daunting road matchup looming Saturday against Real Salt Lake, a matchup of last year’s conference championship series. Portland have beaten RSL just once in eight tries and have never won at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“We’re behind the eight ball,” Porter said. “There’s plenty examples of teams that have started slow and have won it all. …. But in the end, we’re not where we wanted to be at this point, and we’ve got to step it up. There’s nothing we can do but get back to work.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.