PORTLAND, Ore. – In the case there was any worry that the pressure from the early season hole the Portland Timbers dug themselves in was adversely affecting the group, they put that to rest following Saturday’s training session at Providence Park.
As the final preparation for Sunday’s showdown with the LA Galaxy (2:30 pm ET; NBCSN) wrapped up, Gambian central defenders Pa Modou Kah and Mamadou “Futty” Danso – two of the more, let’s say, lighthearted players on the roster – went about their usual roughhousing with Kah dribbling the ball around while Danso was draped on his back. The “Great Wall of Gambia,” complete with horse sound effects.
“I think that says a lot of about the belief we’ve had even though we weren’t getting results,” head coach Caleb Porter said of his team’s close-knit nature despite going eight games into the season without a win, a streak that was broken last weekend with their 3-2 win over D.C. United. “We know we’re a good team, we know we’re capable of turning this around, we know we’re capable of winning games in this league.”
Even though the Timbers weren't hitting the panic button going into last weekend with the league’s worst record, Porter said their first win definitely lifted spirits.
“Guys are definitely a little bit less tight,” Porter said. “Even though they’ve never been down and the spirit has never been bad, when you get that weight lifted when you finally break through, I think that lightens the load on your shoulders.”
That building confidence may also be buoyed by the fact that the Timbers have known nothing but success against the Galaxy under Porter. Portland beat LA both times in the Rose City last year – 2-1 on July 14 and 1-0 on Sept. 29 – and they played to a scoreless draw on June 20 at the StubHub Center. The Timbers have done an especially good job on the Galaxy’s attacking duo of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, holding them scoreless in all three meetings last year.
“Obviously, you always want to be on your best game, but when you know you’re playing against a world-class player, yeah, you want to get up for it, you want to prove that you can match that and you can be just good as they are and shut them out of the game as a defender,” left back Michael Harrington said.
Porter said their home ground provide an advantage in any game. But against the Galaxy and their older stars, Providence Park’s artificial surface may also provide a mental advantage, he said.
“You see that a little bit with top guys around the league, so that might be a factor sometimes and that might be a factor of why we’re good at home as well,” Porter said. “It’s a mental drain sometimes knowing you’re going to play on turf. I don’t think it’s a greater risk, but sometimes guys think it’s a greater risk to get injured playing on turf. And sometimes that plays on guys.”
Regardless, Porter knows the Galaxy's frontrunners are key weapons, and he said they’ve “worked all week on managing the movement of Donovan and Keane.” Being aggressive and keeping the ball, which Porter expects in every game, especially at home, is the best defense against the Galaxy’s attack, Porter said.
“I think that’s a real key against LA,” Porter said. “They’re a team that wants the ball, they want to push the game. They’ve got very talented players that, if you give them time and space and let them have the ball, can open you up.”
But despite the Timbers’ looseness and confidence, they know they’re still looking up at most of the Western Conference having only secured eight points from nine games. Harrington said they set a “mini goal” of snagging all nine points from their current three-game home stand, which after the Galaxy concludes Saturday against the Columbus Crew.
“Things turn really quickly if you don’t start to focus on every game battling to get three points because you don’t want to be at the end of the season looking back and wondering how you missed out,” Porter said. “Right now we’re approaching things with a lot of urgency, but we always do that. We did that from game one, from day one.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.