The Portland Timbers knew their Wednesday CONCACAF Champions League visit to San Jose, Costa Rica, would present a difficult challenge. And an early goal from Diego Valeri didn’t change that.
Deportivo Saprissa used high pressure to dominate the first half, earning a 2-1 lead from an own goal and a penalty kick. The Timbers settled down after halftime, but were never on the front foot in losing 4-2 to the Costa Rican champions.
The Timbers left the game feeling hard done by the officiating – and that the goals from Valeri and Fanendo Adi should have added up to a win.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter disputed the two penalty kicks awarded to the home team – one for a foul against Ben Zemanski late in the first half and the second for a handball call against Steven Taylor, who slid near the top of the penalty area to block a shot.
“Well, we were playing against 12 men today, and I’m not talking about the crowd. That’s obvious,” Porter said. “Anybody that knows the game, watched this game, two PKs, they weren’t PKs.”
Porter also thought a foul should have been whistled against Saprissa on the sequence that resulted in the Jermaine Taylor own goal that tied the score 1-1.
“The reality is, we scored two good goals. They scored one, and that’s the story of the game,” he said.
Part of the story was Saprissa’s ability to apply constant pressure, forcing the Timbers to defend deep and clear the ball instead of keeping possession.
“They put us under pressure in the last 30 minutes of the first half, so that’s something that we need to do better with,” Zemanski said. “We need to keep possession to get forward a little more.”
With the Timbers battling to qualify for the MLS playoffs – and their next-to-last league home match coming on Saturday against Philadelphia (6 pm ET, MLS LIVE) – Porter left several key players in Portland. Liam Ridgewell, Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury and Alvas Powell stayed home.
But even with the sobering result, Valeri’s goal in the fifth minute, off a combination with Adi, gave the Timbers an early lift.
“It was really important for us to open the score, and we did it,” Valeri said. “I thought that the first 15 minutes of the game, we played really well. After that they put a lot of numbers forward. They put a lot of pressure, and obviously the referee helped them a lot.”
Despite Wednesday’s loss, the Timbers control their CCL destiny in Group B. Win both remaining matches and they are through to the knockout phase. On Sept. 27 the Timbers travel to El Salvador to face CD Dragon needing at least a draw to stay alive. Portland defeated Dragon 2-1 at home on a late goal from Valeri to open play in the group last month.
On Oct. 19, Saprissa visit Providence Park to close out the group stage. If Portland draw at Dragon, they will then need to beat Saprissa by at least two goals. The away-goal tiebreaker will go the Timbers' way if they win that match 2-0 or 3-1.
“We know what we need to do. We need to win the next two games, and I’m confident that we will do that, so they’re in a good spot mentally,” Porter said. “We have to shift gears and move on quickly to the league and Philly on Saturday."