PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers beat Real Salt Lake – for 88 minutes.
That was the one positive pulled from the rubble that was Saturday’s 3-2 loss to RSL at JELD-WEN Field. For almost the entire game, the Timbers were the better team – then Johnny Steele and Kyle Beckerman scored in the game’s final four minutes, erasing the Timbers’ 2-1 lead and marring what was mostly quality performance against an expected MLS Cup contender.
“It’s a loss at home against one of the best teams in the country for the last three, four years,” Portland head coach John Spencer said. “I think if we would’ve gotten blown out and never looked capable playing against them and we’re short in every department, then I think that would be guys being down on their confidence. I think you’ve seen us attacking ... they struggled to cope with us for most of the game.”
As they have done in all four of their games this season, the Timbers conceded the first goal, falling behind 1-0 on a 39th-minute strike by Álvaro Saborío. Portland came roaring back in the second half as two goals from Darlington Nagbe pushed the home side into the lead. Up until Steele and Beckerman’s heroics, the Timbers had an 8-6 advantage in shots on goal.
“Guys were kind of upbeat in the locker room at halftime, felt that we had a good performance, very unfortunate to be down a goal,” Spencer said. “We came out and played with energy again. I felt we dominated the game most of the [second] half.”
Nagbe’s performance played a huge part in that dominance, switching from right wing to center 10 minutes into the game and scoring just the second brace in Portland’s MLS history.
In all, Nagbe had three shots on target and completed 35 of his 36 passes successfully. His second goal, a dribbling volley that split two RSL defenders, was reminiscent of his Goal of the Year last season and has been nominated for Goal of the Week.
“Hopefully you sleep it off, and wake up the next day and come back ready for training,” Nagbe said.
Midfield reinforcements on the way
Portland’s crowded and talented midfield is about to get a bit more crowded and talented.
Sal Zizzo, who has yet to play this season while he recovers from a knee injury, participated in seven-on-seven scrimmage drills during Monday’s training session at JELD-WEN Field. Zizzo also logged 23 minutes for the Timbers reserves last week in a 1-0 loss to San Jose. The 24-year-old started 14 games last year and recorded three assists.
Kalif Alhassan also returned to training on Monday. The Ghanaian missed Saturday’s game against RSL with a strained groin after starting on the right wing in Portland’s first three games. Alhassan has a goal and an assist this year, both coming in the club’s season-opening 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Union.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.