PORTLAND, Ore. – Before the Portland Timbers season came to a close Sunday in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship of the MLS Cup Playoffs in a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, head coach Caleb Porter said he’d worry about why his team struggled so mightily against RSL during the postseason.
That begins now.
And after RSL’s dismantling of the Timbers with a 5-2 aggregate victory in the two-game series, Porter will have a lot to look at. Not only were the playoff debutant Timbers punchless on the road against RSL, being outscored 10-5 in three losses in all competition, but after Sunday’s loss at JELD-WEN Field, the Claret-and-Cobalt also found a way to win on Portland’s home turf.
In six games this year, Portland lost four times and were only able to draw twice. So what was it about RSL? It came down to one word for Porter: “experience.”
“Obviously, this is the first time we’ve been in this position and there’s a reason why a team like Salt Lake is moving on in this series,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “You see teams like Salt Lake, teams like Kansas City, teams like Houston, and the Galaxies of the world, there’s a reason why they’re in this situation year after year, and that’s experience and having players who have been in that situation.”
Of the Timbers starting XI Sunday night, a group that barely changed throughout the playoffs, only four players have had significant playoff experience prior to 2013, all with other teams: goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, defenders Jack Jewsbury and Michael Harrington and midfielder Will Johnson.
RSL’s lineup featured players like midfielder and team captain Kyle Beckerman, midfielder Javier Morales, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran all played key roles in their 2009 MLS Cup championship and throughout the club’s six consecutive year run in the postseason.
That was little consolation to Johnson, who spent the previous five seasons at Salt Lake.
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“We’re competitive, we got a good group of guys together, but the thing right now is it’s just a tough feeling, to get so close, come so far, but come up short; I don’t have a great answer for that one,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of good things that have gone on this year, but the only thing we feel right now is disappointment and pain.”
Porter said the best thing that his club can do is keep their core group together and build on the experience.
“I think if we took the same team just like it is, we would be in that position next year like we were this year. This series could’ve gone differently. If we played it again it could go differently,” Porter said. “… We don’t need to get a ton better. I think just through experience we will be better next season.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.