BEAVERTON, Ore. — Falling behind 2-0 in the first 20 minutes of any soccer match is about as disastrous as it gets.
That was the case for the Portland Timbers, who gave up two quick goals in an eventual 2-1 loss against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at JELD-WEN Field.
Not only did conceding those two tallies virtually guarantee that Portland’s five-game winless streak would be extended, it also didn’t give head coach John Spencer and his coaching staff enough of a sample size to honestly evaluate their new-look starting lineup.
“I don’t think it had the intended results when you go down two-nil so early in the game,” Spencer said Tuesday after training at the Tualatin Hills Recreation Center in preparation for a friendly match against Mexican side Club América on Thursday, and then their derby with the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. “I think guys come in the game and, obviously, want to do well, and all of a sudden, you find yourself down two-nil and the guys who have been put in the game don’t get a chance to show what they can do, so I was a little bit disappointed in that way.”
Two of Portland’s most notable players, forward Kenny Cooper and defender Jeremy Hall — considered to be building blocks for the expansion team — gave way to Eddie Johnson and Steve Purdy, respectively, against Kansas City.
Cooper came off the bench in a MLS match for the first time since 2007 but still has not scored a goal or recorded an assist since April 30.
And while the result was the same, Spencer was a touch more satisfied with his team’s performance against Kansas City as opposed to their horrendous 4-0 loss on June 25 against Dallas.
“I think we made two mistakes and we got punished, to be honest with you,” Spencer said. “I don’t think we’re getting cut apart by great plays. We’re just making that one bad decision. … We’re getting punished. I don’t think we’re playing really poorly. I don’t think we’re playing differently, aside from lacking confidence, than we were when we won five games at home.”
Johnson, making his first start for the Timbers, had a chance to cut the 2-0 deficit in the game’s 25th minute but had his attempt broken up by Sporting defender Mike Harrington. Cooper came on in the 67th minute and had an immediate chance at an equalizing goal, but a weak header attempt fell right into the hands of goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Spencer said he thinks his team’s struggles can be attributed to a number of young players in the starting lineup adjusting to the professional game — there are seven players 22 or younger on Portland’s roster — and a touch of fatigue.
“There’s nothing much you can do about it once the game is over with,” he said. “The only you can do is step back on the training field and apply yourself to the best of your ability every single day.”
Spencer will likely use a host of players Thursday against Club América. As for what his lineup may look like against Seattle is anybody’s guess. Spencer certainly doesn’t plan on sharing his tactics, having jokingly suggested he considered one of the beat writers from the media pool as a candidate for a forward spot.
“I’m not going to announce that before the Seattle game,” Spencer said.