PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers have had a penchant for the dramatic this year, with heroics on their home field highlighting a handful of come-from-behind results at Providence Park.
That, however, was nowhere to be found Friday night in their 1-0 home loss to Sporting Kansas City, with the Timbers failing to pierce a bunkered-in defense and racking up their first shutout since April 19.
And for Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, it was a case of tempting fate one too many times.
“We can’t keep relying on ‘Operation Come From Behind,’” Porter said in his postgame comments. “And it seems like every second half it’s, ‘Alright, Operation Comeback, we need to score one, score two. And we’ve pulled out a lot of them, which shows that this team has spirit, shows we have a good attacking group. But we fell short tonight, and you’re going to fall short if you put yourself in that position as many times as we have.”
And it hasn’t just been at home.
Portland have conceded the first goal in 12 of their 17 games and managed to nick a result in eight of those, a stat Porter had at the ready to illustrate his frustration.
And Porter said when Lawrence Olum was able to find a goal out of the melee of a long throw-in into the penalty area in the 24th minute, it made Sporting’s defensive strategy, in the absence of US national teamers Graham Zusi and Matt Besler in addition to several injuries, even more lethal. Despite dominating possession, the Timbers were only able to produce four shots on target with SKC sending everyone behind the ball.
“It’s easy for me to come in here and say, ‘Kansas City, they were the better team, they came in here and showed that and had more chances, scored a great goal, they broke us down, they were just better,’” Porter said. “That would be a much easier conversation for me, but that’s not the case. We controlled the match, we controlled possession, we had more chances, they had very little from the run of play and yet we are left with an empty result, an empty feeling.”
There was also the physical nature of the Sporting’s approach, committing 23 fouls and seeing yellow four times. Its affect on breaking up the Timbers attack was palpable.
“It’s very difficult,” said Timber striker Fanendo Adi, who had one header goal called back for offside and another free header late in the game sail over the bar. “That’s their game plan.”
Porter did say it was a worthy strategy and one his team needs to be ready to deal with. As it is, the Timbers’ frustratingly up-and-down season has hit another lull following their 3-1 victory at Real Salt Lake on June 7, having now gone winless in their last two to remain in sixth place in the Western Conference.
“It’s not anything they do great to create it; literally throw it in the box, the ball falls and the guy scores,” Porter said of Olum’s goal. “So for me, it’s a play that should not happen. If you can’t make that play then you don’t deserve points.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.