The list of excuses for a 4-2 loss Friday night to Real Salt Lake could be a mile long for the Portland Timbers.
They came into the game without two of their most experienced players in captain Will Johnson and Jack Jewsbury, who were both out with injuries. Veteran central defender Pa Modou-Kah was also serving a suspension.
Playmaking midfielder Diego Valeri then was forced off with an injury in the 32nd minute with the Timbers trailing 2-1.
And then to top it off, midfielder Ben Zemanski was shown straight red for a studs-up tackle in first-half stoppage time and Portland were forced to play a man down for the entire second half.
As if facing the top team in the Western Conference on their home pitch wasn’t hard enough. But Timbers head coach Caleb Porter had only one excuse for his team’s worst defeat in his first season at the helm: Real Salt were just better, much better.
“The biggest factor, Real Salt Lake was better on the day,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com. “They deserved to win the game. They showed why they’re the top team in the league at this point in the season.”
Porter said RSL controlled the tempo right form the start, something his possession-oriented side has not been used to this season. For the game, the Timbers saw their most lopsided negative possession percentage of the year. And RSL were ruthless, scoring on their first two shots of the game to go up 2-0 within just 15 minutes.
“It’s humbling, we got a bit bloodied, we’re obviously all a bit disappointed by the scoreline, but hopefully in the big picture this is something that will make us better because we have to keep plugging away,” Porter said. “Bottom line, we can’t have a performance like we did today.”
Where the Timbers’ glaring absences of key players factored into the game, according to Porter, only just made the result a bit more lopsided. He said it was a lot to ask of his club to compete with a team in top form such as RSL to begin with. Then, when your best offensive player goes down with an injury and another one is sent to the locker room early, it became nearly impossible.
“I think obviously that was a factor,” Porter said. “Going into the game you don’t want to play that up too much because the guys you go with you want them to feel as if there’s true belief that they can get a result.”
Still, Porter said there were positives to look at, for example Darlington Nagbe pulling back a goal to make the score 2-1 in the 31st minute. Porter said he felt the momentum shifting a bit in the Timbers favor leading up to that goal.
“I don’t think we lost the game because of the red card, I really don’t,” he said. “I think in the end we lost the game because we made mistakes and we lost the game because we didn’t perform as well as we’re capable of.”
Now, Porter said, it’s a matter of bouncing back from the team’s most humbling defeat of the season with just eight games remaining.
“We’ll sort it out, and we’ll figure it out, and this team has proved that we have quality and this result doesn’t change that,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.