PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers were no strangers to struggles during their first year in MLS.
At one point in 2011, they went winless in nine games, a dismal stretch that ultimately cost them a spot in the MLS CUp Playoffs. And head coach John Spencer — who made his feelings clear after training on Tuesday — said the front office, the coaching staff and the players all know what needs to be done after losing their third straight on Saturday against Chivas USA.
"The players know what they have got to do," Spencer said. "We know as a staff what we've got to do."
Of course, as is Spencer's method of coaching, he declined to go into specifics of what exactly needs to be done. However he stressed how important it was for his side to give total effort for the full 90 minutes. Effort has been stressed due to the fact that the Timbers have squandered leads in their last two games. Real Salt Lake scored two goals in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss on March 31. And after securing a 1-0 first-half lead against Chivas, Portland came out of the locker room on the back foot, resulting in a 2-1 loss.
HIGHLIGHTS: POR v CHV
"I've been in the game too long," Spencer said. "I've been in the game as a professional since 1986. I've seen every situation that has ever been seen, ups and downs. And to start panicking after four or five games of the season, you've got to be off your head."
Nuts and bolts of losing
Spencer did cite two factors of the losing streak that may be getting overlooked.
He said the injuries to dynamic midfielder Franck Songo'o, which forced him to miss the season's first two games and play limited minutes since then — in addition to midfielder Sal Zizzo and defender David Horst being sidelined the entire season — have been a challenge to overcome.
Newly acquired Colombian defender Hanyer Mosquera has also been unavailable for three games, first due to his International Transfer Certificate not coming through in and then he was injured.
"When we get these guys fit and healthy, that's when you should judge us as a team," Spencer said. “We know what we've got in this squad, the quality we've got. It's only a matter of time before we start winning games."
Spencer also felt aggrieved that penalty kicks were not awarded to his team in each of the last three games. The Scotsman felt tackles on defender Eric Brunner against both Real Salt Lake and Chivas were "stonewall" penalties. And he said a handball on New England's Shalrie Joseph in the box, with two Timbers players ready for an easy chip-in on an open goal, was also missed in Portland's 1-0 loss on March 24.
"Those are huge decisions that need to start hopefully going our way," Spencer said. "That's when you get a little bit of luck, you get decisions going your way and things turn around."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @dan_itel.