Portland Timbers again acknowledge need to fix disturbing trend of conceding on crosses

PORTLAND, Ore. – A disturbing trend reared its head again in the Portland Timbers’ 1-1 draw Sunday afternoon against the LA Galaxy, and head coach Caleb Porter said it needs to be fixed – and quick – if his team is to fight back into the MLS Cup playoff race.

A defensive lapse in stoppage time allowed a long throw-in by Galaxy defender Dan Gargan to make its way all the way into the box to an unmarked Robbie Keane for an easy header goal. That could have easily been the game-winner if not for late heroics by Portland’s Diego Valeri, who scored the equalizer at the game’s death.

Porter said similar lapses have cost Portland points in three other games.

“Robbie Keane runs through our box naked and heads the ball in the goal,” a disappointed Porter said in his postgame remarks. “For me, I don’t understand how that happens, and it’s been a trend. I’m sounding like a broken record after the games because most of the goals we’re giving up are on simple crosses … and at this level it’s unacceptable.”

The throw-in from nearly 30 yards out crossed the Timbers box and fell between center back Mamadou “Futty” Danso and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Neither player went for it, and Keane was there for the simple header.

“The ball bounced between me and Donovan, and I thought he would have it but obviously he could not get there and Keane came out of nowhere and had a free header,” Danso told reporters in a somber postgame locker room.

Ricketts said there was no miscommunication between him and Danso and that it was just a simple “human error” that needs to be corrected.

“We just have to be more focused on set plays,” Ricketts said.

Porter cited three other instances that mental mistakes led to goals on seemingly simple plays, all three costing the Timbers three points.

In Portland’s 4-4 draw April 5 against the Seattle Sounders, Clint Dempsey was left open to receive an Obafemi Martins cross for an easy goal that sparked a rally from 4-2 down. In a 1-1 tie against Chivas USA the very next week, Portland allowed Erick Torres to run free onto the end of a cross for a late equalizing goal. And on April 27 in a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo, Brad Davis played a perfect cross to an open Will Bruin in Portland’s box for a goal.

In all three instances, the oppositions’ best goal scorer was left unmarked.

“We talk about it, we show video on it, we train it,” Porter said. “You give them the keys to the game, the important things, and to me at this level I don’t know how it happens. Late in the game, Robbie Keane, how does he head the ball in the goal? If you want to go anywhere as a team, you’ve got to defend crosses because most goals in this league are scored on crosses.”

The positive, however, is that Portland were able to walk away with a point. Porter said he never doubted that his team would eventually find a goal, but Valeri’s strike at the death should have led to a victory celebration – the team’s second straight after starting the season winless in their first eight games – rather than more frustration, the Timbers boss said.

“We do keep slowly moving up, but we’re running out of time and we need to pick it up and change that trend,” Porter said. “It’s time to change it otherwise we’re not going to be the team we want to be at the end of the year.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.