With the Portland Timbers looking to climb back into Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoff places, the last thing they needed was an away loss to the Western Conference's worst team this season.
But after Gio Savarese's side absorbed a 4-1 drubbing at Children's Mercy Park on Sunday evening against Sporting Kansas City, next Friday's Cascadia derby at Providence Park against the Seattle Sounders has become that much more critical.
"We had an embarrassing first half. I take full responsibility because, ultimately, I'm the one that puts the players on the field. I'm the one that prepares the players to play, and the first half wasn't to the standard of the Portland Timbers," the 5th-year Timbers head coach said after the match. "If I'm a fan of the Timbers, I would be very disappointed for today. I would be upset."
Portland's loss, coupled with Seattle's 3-3 draw against the LA Galaxy two days prior, means the 9th-place Sounders and 10th-place Timbers are now level on 33 points — with Seattle holding a match in hand and ahead of Portland on the first tiebreaker (wins) — with the archrivals chasing 7th-place LA and 8th-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC, both on 34 points.
It was somewhat a measure of revenge for a Sporting KC side looking to avoid a finish at the bottom of the West standings. On May 14 at Providence Park, they were on the wrong end of a 7-2 scoreline that saw Portland total their highest goal output as an MLS team.
Savarese, though, was prepared for a much different match, even if his team may have been favored to sweep the season series from their conference foe.
"We're not naive. We knew it was going to be difficult," he said. "But what we did say was that we have to put [in] the work to make sure we can compete."
Instead, it was a second straight defensive letdown for the Timbers and a missed opportunity to jump above the playoff line, already in the bottom half of the conference in goals allowed but having now conceded seven times in two matches. It comes following back-to-back 1-1 draws against Nashville SC and FC Dallas that had Savarese feeling a little better about his defense after a 4-4 draw at Minnesota United FC.
"Games like these happen because you don't put in the work," Savarese said. "It's not because of the work that we have to do better defensively. It's the effort that everyone collectively has to put in... We have seen and shown that when we really want to, we're capable of doing it."
Despite such a poor loss on the road, Savarese wasn't ready to let the performance define his group, especially with the playoffs still in reach despite a five-match winless skid (0W-2L-3D).
"We've been much better than this, and we have to now, in the moment, which is [a] very difficult moment, we have to be as united as we can, because we're never going to give up," Savarese said. "We're going to continue to push. There's still a lot of points to [play for]."
HIGHLIGHTS: Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers | August 21, 2022