PORTLAND, Ore. — Any team can expect an adjustment period when tinkering with lineups and formations.
The Portland Timbers are no different. And the results have been mixed since forward Kenny Cooper was sent to the bench on the heels of a 4-0 loss against Dallas on June 25 up to head coach John Spencer tweaking his formation to a quasi-4-3-3/4-5-1 against Seattle on July 10.
Spencer can point to two losses and a victory in the three matches since the tinkering began.
But judging by the Timbers’ 1-0 win last Saturday against Chicago — the team’s first MLS victory on the road — things just might be coming around. Portland will hope for continued growth as they take to the road again for a Saturday match against the Columbus Crew.
“The first couple weeks there’s always going to be some hiccups in it,” Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury said. “The guys are getting more comfortable, not only with playing with each other in their roles there, but in the system.”
The defense has shown signs of improvement with James Marcelin’s move to the defensive midfield position. And pushing winger Kalif Alhassan further upfield to complement forward Jorge Perlaza has created a more dynamic look on offense.
If not for an own-goal against Seattle, Perlaza nearly had two goals created entirely by offensive movement. And against Chicago, Perlaza’s run in the box led to Jack Jewsbury’s penalty-kick goal.
“I wasn’t too happy the way it panned out in the first half against Seattle, but I thought it got better as the game got on with it,” Spencer said. “And we did well against Chicago with it. So I see no reason why we wouldn’t stick with the same formation against Columbus.”
Spencer said it’s a steep learning curve to ask his players to adapt to changes in actual games. He said he’s mostly happy with the way they’ve responded.
“I think there’s not been many games where we took backward steps,” he said. “If you look at the progression from the first game of the season to now, we look more comfortable and more comfortable. We’ve played some really good football here at times and matched up against some of the best teams in the league.”
Still, Spencer said there was some luck against Chicago, and it’s hard to judge overall effectiveness with just one win. The Fire out-shot Portland 19-12.
“It’s easy to say we got one win and everything is great,” Jewsbury said. “But at the end of the day we have got to continue working hard and continue to understand what each position is going to take and what it’s going to take to get three points. I think it’s definitely getting better, but it’s still a work in progress.”