After draw vs. Dallas, Portland Timbers' Caleb Porter challenges backline: "Nobody wants to step up"

PORTLAND, Ore. – There were more than just a handful of strange occurrences on Wednesday night at Providence Park in the Portland Timbers’ wild rally for a 2-2 draw against FC Dallas.

One of them was Timbers captain Will Johnson and forward Gastón Fernández arguing over who would take the penalty kick that ultimately sparked their comeback from a 2-0 halftime deficit.

Johnson won out, scored the goal in the 79th minute and the Timbers pulled out another stoppage-time decision after a Pa Modou Kah goal at the death. After the game, head coach Caleb Porter said he didn’t have a problem with his attackers’ little spat, saying he wants that passion in the group.

The problem, Porter said, is not everyone on the team shares that hunger.

“I’d much rather have that then nobody wanting it, which is kind of what we have in the backline right now,” Porter said, referring to a first half that saw Dallas build a 2-0 lead on Fabián Castillo and Blas Pérez goals. “Nobody wants to step up. No one wants to grab the bull by the horns and lead this team on the backline. And we need that.”

After their sixth consecutive multi-goal game, Portland are tied for the second most goals in MLS with 28 in 16 games. Problem is, they’ve allowed the second most in the Western Conference with 27, leaving them just under the red line in sixth place.

And even though the Timbers pulled yet another rabbit out of the hat that is Providence Park – following late goals to draw Columbus, LA, Chicago and Philadelphia and wins against D.C. United, all at home – Porter said he’s growing tired of his defense leaving too many points on the table.

“First half was disappointing, it was embarrassing, it was abysmal defending,” Porter said. “But that will be corrected, no doubt about it. The good thing is we have a good team. We have all the makings of a championship team, except for two things and those things will be corrected.”

Porter didn’t provide specifics on what those two things are, but a halftime substitution of newly acquired Danny O’Rourke for Rauwshan McKenzie in central defense is a likely hint.

Through injuries and the trade of longtime Timbers center back Mamadou “Futty” Danso, Portland’s backline has been in flux for much of the season. And that continued to be the case Wednesday with McKenzie getting just his fourth start of the season, Michael Harrington switching from his usual left-back position to the right side after he missed five games with a sprained ankle and Jorge Villafaña on the left in his fifth start.

The only mainstay has been Kah, who even missed Portland’s last game – incidently their first win at Real Salt Lake over the weekend.

“It’s not just the back for, it’s the whole team,” Johnson said. “… We’ve still got another half [of the season] to get this right. We know it’s a problem, it’s been a problem for a long time and it’s something we’re working desperately to try to fix.”

The Timbers will have the nearly three-week World Cup break to either bring in reinforcements or work with existing personnel. Porter was certainly adamant that changes are already being set in motion.

“The backline has not been good enough, and we need to change it and we will,” Porter said. “… I think it’s an individual and collective thing.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.