The Portland Timbers once again left much to be desired at the start of a match. And this time, it cost them.
For the third straight game, Portland fell behind a goal when New England’s Saer Sene scored just 28 seconds into Saturday’s match off a beautifully placed cross by Chris Tierney. But unlike the Timbers’ first two matches, the answer never came and they fell for the first time in the 2012 season after a 1-0 loss at Gillette Stadium.
“As they say, if you can’t start with energy and enthusiasm in  seconds and close the ball down, you’re going to get problems,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “And [Tierney] put in a great ball. Tierney’s got a nice left foot, and put it in, and then they get the back of it and score a goal. Very disappointing from start to finish.”
The goal came on a series of uncontested passes to start the match, with the most confounding for Spencer being Tierney’s connection to Sene from the left wing. Spencer criticized midfielder Kalif Alhassan for not closing on Tierney faster.
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“I keep saying that you’ve got to deny service into the box,” Spencer said. “And if you don’t deny service, goals can happen and that’s what happened. We got punished for not stopping a cross. We’ve got to get to the ball quicker.”
While the result may not sit well with the Timbers, the numbers don’t tell a completely devastating tale. Portland dominated possession, 56.7 percent to 43.3 percent for New England. And that led to 13 attempts on goal to the Revs’ nine.
The problem was, the Timbers couldn’t put it on frame. They had just three shots on goal.
“We have some dangerous options going forward,” midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. “Tonight just wasn’t lucky enough to get the first one in. I think if we would have done that, we could possibly have gotten the second one and gotten out of here with a good result.”
Most glaring was the failure of forward Kris Boyd to put any of his four header attempts on the mark. Midfielders Alhassan and Diego Chara each had two solid looks at the goal, but their attempts weren’t close.
“I think you would expect [Boyd] to at least hit the target with his goal-scoring ability and record,” Spencer said. “He definitely expects to score there, but as they say, one of those games for him. One of those games for the 11, 12, 13 players on the field today.”
Portland’s best chance at an equalizer, perhaps, was after midfielder Franck Songo’o made his highly anticipated debut for Eric Alexander in the 60th minute. He immediately made his presence felt, firing off a missile that required a reaction save by New England goalkeeper Matt Reis.
If there was one positive to take away from the game, it was the play of Songo’o. He missed the Timbers’ first two matches as he recovered from a knee injury suffered in a preseason scrimmage. And in just 30 minutes against New England, the Cameroon international completed 16 of his 20 passes successfully and had two shots on goal.
“We’ve missed him,” Spencer said of Songo’o. “He’s got a lot of quality on the ball as you’ve seen. He can strike a great ball, and Matt Reis pulls off a wonder save.”
Still, Spencer’s frustration was made clear.
“I think from the first minute to the last minute, we were very poor,” he said. “We’ve started the season with four points, and now it’s four points out of nine.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.