Before the Portland Timbers departed for Salt Lake City for one of their biggest matches of the year, a semifinal meeting in the US Open Cup against Real Salt Lake, head coach Caleb Porter spoke passionately of his desire to bring a trophy to the Rose City. He said the fans deserved it after a disappointing first two seasons in MLS.
The fans have to wait a bit longer. It wasn’t to be for Portland on Wednesday after an early Alvaro Saborio goal and a second-half strike by Joao Plata led the hosts to a 2-1 win.
“We wanted to go farther,” Porter said. “If we got through this game we could win the Open Cup, obviously I like our chances going back [to Portland] and winning. It’s tough. You have to come and play one of the best teams in the league on their home field, that’s a tall order.”
And the formula that resulted in the loss is something that’s becoming all too familiar for the Timbers. Portland out-shot and out-possessed RSL, as they’ve done to nearly all comers this season, but in spite of it they’ve now lost three matches, tied two and won just one in the last month.
“What I think is happening is that we’ve had success, people are talking about us, we know we’re a good team, we know we can take the field and have a chance to win against anybody, but in some ways maybe we’ve gotten overconfident,” Porter said. “In some ways maybe we need a little dose of reality a few times to know that we’re a good team, and we can take the field and have a chance against anybody and win games.”
Porter said his team needs to be more aggressive in converting chances and not allowing teams to dictate the pace by netting the first goal. The Timbers have also conceded first in their last three losses. Still, they out-shot RSL 13-9 with six shots on goal to RSL’s four.
“They knew what was at stake, but in some ways they had a bit – too much – of confidence, and we got burned by it,” Porter said. “Listen at the end, you could see there in the second half [it was] good. We were getting more of the ball. To do that against Salt Lake, I don’t know if that happens very often to Salt Lake, but we’re in it to win games. We’re not in it to possess the ball.”
But in some ways, this game was only a preview of what is to come between these two sides. Portland and RSL will face each other three more times, all in MLS play, before the season is over.
And those games will have a lot of say, as well, as to whether Portland raise any kind of trophy this year.
“We need the results to continue where we want to go,” said Timbers captain Will Johnson, who returned to his former team where he spent five years before joining Portland this year. “It’s learning from their mistakes, it’s looking at the tape, analyzing the good things – continuing to do those good things. But also realizing there are a lot of mistakes being made and those are easily correctable and they must be corrected if this team wants to be successful.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.