Throughout the Portland Timbers’ resurgent 2013 season, head coach Caleb Porter has consistently preached keeping an even keel.
Win, and it’s not the zenith of all accomplishments. Lose, and it’s not the end of the world.
It's just that the Timbers haven’t lost a whole lot this season. But that message still held true Sunday, even after they lost for the first time in five months and for just the second time all season after falling 1-0 on the road to the Columbus Crew. The result ended Portland’s MLS franchise-record 15-game unbeaten streak.
“They’re disappointed, and obviously they should be because we lost, we haven’t lost in quite a while,” Porter said. “But for me there’s no failure, there’s just feedback. The feedback I got today was very positive in a lot of ways, again reinforcing just how tough and strong this team is. We got better today, even though we lost. You can get better through losses just as much as you get better through positive results.”
In many ways, it was a result that could easily be explained.
Portland came in without captain and midfielder Will Johnson, who is playing in the Gold Cup as the captain for the Canadian national team, in addition to one of their leading scorers, Rodney Wallace, also on Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica.
And it got worse 10 minutes into the game when, already down a goal, central defender Pa Modou Kah was shown red for his second penalty of the game, leaving the Timbers to fight for nearly 80 minutes with 10 men.
“That was a rocky start and ultimately, that first 13 minutes cost us the game,” Porter said. “Absolutely admirable for our guys to play 80-plus minutes down a man – we didn’t give up a goal and we had chances to level. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team go that long down a man and not give up a goal; but we should have never been in that situation to begin with.”
But despite all the adversity, the Timbers might just look back on this game and think a chance for points escaped them.
Portland held a 55 percent possession advantage and had a number of chances at an equalizer.
“We came out of halftime wanting to create chances and we created enough to try and get that first one – but it didn’t fall for us,” Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury said. “We had a couple really good clear chances in that second half, and I’m sure we’d like to have them back But at the end of the day, great fight by the guys.”
In the end, Porter said the team’s unbeaten streak coming to an end is a good lesson as the second half of the season gets under way and the Timbers now four points behind first-place Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference.
“Sometimes it takes feeling defeat to really stay sharp and stay hungry,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Portland Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.