PORTLAND, Ore. – Sure, the Portland Timbers matchup on Tuesday night against English Premier League side Aston Villa is a friendly (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online). So anything taken out of it should be taken with a grain of salt.
But there’s one thing the exhibition at JELD-WEN Field may provide to the club’s browbeaten players and coaches, and that’s a respite from the relentless narrative of their withering MLS season.
“I think confidence, just coming out of it knowing they can play, showing a sense of self belief, being able to actually string some passes together, creating chances, finishing chances,” Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said after the team’s training Monday at JELD-WEN.
The Timbers have lost four straight and are now dead last in the standings thanks to goal differential. And their most recent result – a humiliating, 5-0 loss to FC Dallas on Saturday – rivaled the team’s 1-0 US Open Cup loss to Cal FC as one of the franchise’s worst.
Wilkinson indicated, as he did when he took over for the fired John Spencer, that every position is being evaluated – a scenario that will likely follow the team to the end of the season.
“It will be interesting to how we cope, how we play against them, whether we’re able to dictate the rhythm of the game,” Wilkinson said.
This wasn’t exactly the homecoming that Eric Alexander was looking for.
The Timbers midfielder was acquired in a trade with Dallas toward the end of last season after a year-and-a-half in Texas. And like the entire Timbers locker room, Alexander was gutted after the humiliating loss.
“I think everyone was tired, and obviously that’s not an excuse to quit,” Alexander said, referring to the oppressive heat. “It was just a rough game. I wish it didn’t get to that point, but it did. Now we just have to get past it.”
Alexander’s season hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed when he scored two goals and added two assists in just 12 starts for Dallas, earning him an international team invite, in 2010. But he’s started the Timbers' last five games and has four assists on the season.
He said much needs to be done to move past the Dallas loss.
“More hard work,” Alexander said. “More dedication. A little more professionalism, coming together as a team. It’s going to take a lot to overcome this, and we’re just not putting it out right now.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.