Just under a month ago, the Portland Timbers hit a low point.
They had lost 6-2 at home against the Seattle Sounders, a memorable evening in their historic Cascadia rivalry for all the wrong reasons. That Aug. 15 game at Providence Park reinforced how much work awaited to not slip out of the Western Conference half of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs race.
The Timbers have responded admirably, closing their five-game road swing Friday night with a 1-0 win at Vancouver Whitecaps FC, halting a 10-game unbeaten streak for their BC Place hosts. They’ve now won three straight (3-1-1 stretch) and are trending in the right direction at an opportune time.
“We did a lot of work, we had a lot of conversations,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We felt we went a little bit away from who we are and we needed to make sure that each player understood back again their role. In those conversations and the work on the field, we built up again who we are.
“It starts first with the morale, with the environment, as you said, and believing that we had to bounce back from the game against Seattle, which still was always inside us. That became a motivation for us to make sure that we were better. But in that process, there was a lot of work on the field that we needed to do and we see now the effect of that work.”
Getting players back healthy – US men’s national team midfielder Eryk Williamson’s season-ending ACL tear notwithstanding – has surely played an important role. Felipe Mora has continued his fine form, forcing Ranko Veselinovic’s own goal against Vancouver. Sebastian Blanco is trending toward 90-minutes fitness, and U22 Initiative signing Santiago Moreno is getting acclimated to MLS with late-game appearances. Fullbacks Claudio Bravo and Josecarlos Van Rankin seem fully settled into the league, too.
This stretch included a 2-0 win at Houston Dynamo FC during September’s international window, a shaded result since Tab Ramos’ team sits bottom of the West table. But it’s also included a 2-0 win at Seattle and a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City – two strong results against top-three teams in the West.
And there’s Friday night’s ‘Caps dispatch, which leaves Blanco feeling like the Timbers are finally putting their best foot forward.
“Sometimes you don't need to listen outside the locker room and [you] try to be calm,” Blanco said. “You know how the MLS works as a league, it's very difficult. You have better moments than others, but also you have now the opportunity to win three consecutive games in a row. That is very difficult in MLS. The important thing is to be calm. We need to be within our team.”
Up next, Portland will hope to continue their momentum Wednesday when returning home to face the Colorado Rapids (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). Heading into the weekend, Colorado are second in MLS in points per game and hot on Seattle's tail for the West’s leading spot.
If the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament champions can earn a positive result midweek, it’ll be yet another marker in their turnaround.
“Defensively we have been very strong – we have built up little by little, bits and pieces,” Savarese said. “We have become much better with the ball and we still have a lot more to continue to grow.
“But so far I think each win gives you more confidence, gives you more desire to continue to go on this path. I think the group is in a good place right now, but understanding as well that now we enjoy this victory today, but we have another tough team coming up already on Wednesday.”