PORTLAND, Ore. – It may be too early to say the Portland Timbers saved their season with a wild second half of soccer against the Columbus Crew on Saturday night at Providence Park.
And it may just be one point after a 3-3 draw.
But to come back from down a goal twice in the second half, all with 10 men, could easily be considered a turning point for the Timbers considering the challenges already faced in a disappointing start to the 2014 campaign. At the very least, head coach Caleb Porter said their performance, highlighted by late equalizers from captain Will Johnson and then Gaston Fernandez, showed just what his team is made of.
“I’m proud of my team,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “Obviously we didn’t get three points, but I’m proud of our effort. Down a man, down a goal, to fight back and show what they showed, to out play a team, down a man and down a goal, I think is a huge positive. And that’s what I told them. I’m proud of their effort today.”
The dramatics were part and parcel of a dramatic three-game home stand for the Timbers, with the club pulling results out of the hat late in all three games.
Starting with their 3-2 win over D.C. United on May 3, followed by a 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy a week later, the Timbers have managed to pull themselves out of last place in the Western Conference and into a tie with three teams all sitting on 10 points.
And suddenly the team that went nine games before their first win are now unbeaten in the last four and in six of their last seven.
“It’s not where we want to be, but I guarantee you that no team in the league wants to face us,” Porter said. “And it’s for a good reason because even though we’ve only won one game, we’ve only lost three. … I think it in terms of points, it looks a lot worse than the team we are.”
That was evident when the Timbers came out of the second-half locker room facing a shorthanded uphill battle, down 2-1 after right back Alvas Powell was shown a straight red in the 34th minute for a reckless tackle on Chad Barson.
After the penalty, Porter subbed out Maximiliano Urruti, who scored the Timbers’ first goal, for defender Jorge Villafana and moved outside forward Darlington Nagbe up top. Despite the disadvantage, Portland controlled large stretches of the second half and finished the game with a slight advantage in shots at 16-15.
“It’s the group of guys we have on the team, the players, the coaching staff and the belief we have in each other,” Nagbe told MLSsoccer.com, noting that they drew confidence from recalling their game against the Crew last year, when they fought valiantly despite going down a man in an eventual 1-0 loss. “The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to go, but we’ve been in some tough situations and we come back from tough situations. So hopefully we can keep building on that.”
Porter did acknowledge that some “naiveté” put them behind the eight ball, referring to Powell’s ill-advised tackle, continuing a trend of mental mistakes leading to goals. But he said having the will to respond will only pay off down the road.
“They showed everything I want my team to represent,” Porter said. “They displayed the qualities I want this club to represent, and even though it’s not three points I think the supporters should be happy that they showed that heart.
“A lot of teams lose that game by three, four, five goals and give up. Most teams, they call it a day. Not this team. We’re going to keep fighting, keep giving everything we have every single game.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.