BEAVERTON, Ore. – If ever there was a time for a break, last weekend was it for the Portland Timbers.
Coming off a disheartening loss to Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup semifinals last Wednesday, Portland’s record of 1-3-2 in their last six games was dogging the team with questions of whether their first-half shine had worn off.
So for their last weekend off before the final two and a half months of the season, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter dispatched his players with one message: Don’t touch a soccer ball. And when they returned to the training facility Monday, there was a renewed sense of urgency.
“We were coming off an emotional game against Salt Lake, so it was a perfect time to get a few days away, recharge the batteries and come back today to training and get back after it, get ready for the weekend,” Timbers defender Michael Harrington said.
No, there’s no reason to panic, Porter said before the weekend. He echoed those sentiments again Monday – reiterating that his side has yet to lose two games in a row and still have the fewest losses in the league.
“We’ve got everything to play for, this is the fun part, this is where we have a chance to accomplish our goals and get a bit back to focusing on our strengths,” Porter said. “As much as we’ve been talking about things need to get better, we need to focus on what we’re good at. And what we’re good at is playing our game and being proactive and attacking and being aggressive … For me, that’s the key, playing our game.”
His players seemed the feel the same way, saying there’s no confidence lost among the group.
“There’s 12 games left, and I think psychologically it’s very easy to get wrapped up in, ‘Ah, the playoffs are coming up soon’ and all the pressure of that,” Harrington said. “I think it’s important to go one game at a time, that’s what we did early in the season and that produced good results for us.”
Still, the Timbers slump has put them at a disadvantage for the final stretch. When the Timbers ended the month of June, they were tied atop the Western Conference standings and now they’re sitting in fourth place and six points behind front-running Real Salt Lake.
Harrington said in focusing on what made them so successful early in the season and resulted in a franchise-record 15-game unbeaten streak, their little break from competition has helped them do that.
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“Really, it’s a long season and you have tons of training sessions and it’s repetitive but it’s important,” he said. “And if you lose that, I think it will affect your results. We’ve done a good job of continuing to focus on our training. Today was a fantastic day of training; we really got after it. We’ve played so many games lately that we haven’t really been able to get after it in training.”
He said it was a re-establishing of their identity of sorts: pressing high and possession. The team has ultimately done that over their last six games, but it has resulted in just five goals in that stretch.
“Today we possessed the ball, we pressed and we got our guys in front of the goal, as well, and they did a good job of finishing,” Harrington said. “If we do those things, we’ve got seven games out of the last 12 at home, we’re feeling very good about where we’re sitting right now.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.