BEAVERTON, Ore. – Do we have a problem, Portland?
Things for the Timbers in the last month certainly haven’t been as smooth as their historic start to the 2013 season that saw them tied for first place in the Western Conference and riding a franchise-record 15-game unbeaten streak when the calendar flipped. July has offered its fair share of challenges, with two losses in four games and just three goals.
And after Portland’s latest loss, a 2-1 defeat last weekend on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes, Caleb Porter found himself in a situation that must have felt foreign to the first-year head coach: explaining his team’s struggles.
“As I’ve said in the past and I’ll say it again, you can win a game and everything is not perfect … and you can lose a game and things aren’t broken,” Porter said after a recent session at the team’s training facility. “But you can’t be oblivious as well to things that need correcting. So if you look at the performance, it wasn’t far off. We had  shots, which is the most we’ve had in any road game. In saying that we didn’t do a good enough job finishing, so certainly we need to get that sorted out this week.”
Let’s be clear, the sky in the Rose City certainly isn’t falling.
The Timbers’ three losses are still the fewest of any MLS team, as are their two road losses. And heading into Saturday’s Cascadia rivalry game at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps (11 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), Portland are still in prime position in the West, tied for second with 34 points from 21 games, three points behind first-place Real Salt Lake with a game in hand.
Still, is there cause for concern?
“Not at all,” defender Michael Harrington said. “We’re still as confident as we’ve ever been. We didn’t get the result this last weekend, but we very well could have. We didn’t play our best game but we certainly played well enough to win and had plenty of chances and had more chances than they did. And unfortunately they capitalized on theirs and we did not.”
And that’s exactly what the Timbers have been focusing on this week in training: capitalizing on their opportunities. It starts with getting things going earlier in the game, Harrington said. Two of Portland’s three goals last month came in the second half, and for the season the Timbers have 22 second-half goals.
“That’s definitely another theme that we talked about this week is having a good start and not waiting until the second half to score that goal but scoring early,” Harrington said. “To be honest, I thought we started the San Jose game pretty well and we jumped on them and had a couple chances, you just have to finish those chances. That’s really what it’s all about, being a little more ruthless in front of the goal and taking chances and jumping on them early and not letting them hang around.”
Overall, Porter said, there aren’t major changes that need to be made, pointing to their 21-15 shot advantage.
“We don’t like losing, and we certainly don’t want to lose two in a row, but at the same time you can’t think everything is wrong just because you lose a game,” Porter said. “I don’t want to harp on it too much to where they’re putting pressure on themselves to score goals. We’re getting the chances, we’ll score the goals.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.