BEAVERTON, Ore. – The Portland Timbers will go for a franchise-best three-game winning streak Saturday at the LA Galaxy (2:30 pm ET; NBC, stream on NBCSports.com), a positive storyline for a side that dug a huge hole for themselves to start the season.
It’s one they’ve been slowly digging themselves out of since collecting just five points in the first eight games of 2014.
But could the Timbers finally see a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the red line that will separate a return trip the MLS Cup Playoffs or an early end to an up-and-down season?
Head coach Caleb Porter certainly thinks so, saying Wednesday at the team training facility that his group has played some of their best soccer of the year in wins over the Colorado Rapids and Montreal Impact that has moved them to within three points of the fifth and final postseason spot.
“It looks like our style,” Porter said. “… For me, the last several games we’ve looked more like the team playing the style, the system and the philosophy that I prefer.”
In a 2-1 win over the Rapids on July 18 and a 3-2 victory Sunday at Montreal, both in come-from-behind fashion, Portland were dominant on the ball in their signature high-pressing, possession style that they have become known for under Porter.
It’s hasn’t always been so this season.
But following their first eight games, Portland have posted a 6-3-4 record in the last 13. And after scoring just nine goals in those first eight, the Timbers have 27 in the last 13 games and are tied with the Seattle Sounders for the most goals in the league with 35.
“The team is playing much better than the first games, and that’s individually and collectively,” said midfielder Diego Valeri, who has nabbed the game-winning goals in the last two. “… For attacking players, when the team is playing well, we’re more free and more open, and I think that’s much better for me and the strikers too.”
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Porter was asked whether the team’s recent run of form is due to some of the bad breaks – such as penalty kicks conceded an oddly high number of shots off the woodwork – that came with the early season struggles have finally started to turn. He said that could be part of it, but gave most of the credit to more tangible factors.
“The game doesn’t owe you anything,” Porter said. “You get what you deserve. You get what you earn. You can think too much about those types of things, but the reality is when the whistle blows it’s about making plays, it’s about performing.”
And through it all, Porter said, their struggles have proven to be a galvanizing force.
“We’re a strong team because of what we’ve gone through; I’ve been saying that,” Porter said. “And I think you saw that again in the last game. These guys know what their identity is, they know their roles, they know the system we play, they know the tweaks as well.
"We have a deep team. We have a mentally tough team. We have a tight locker room. Those are all things that work in our favor when you go through tough times.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.