The Portland Timbers showed well on the road once again against a team bound for the postseason, and once again they came away without a win.
Much like Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the MLS-leading San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium, where the Timbers had a number of chances, capitalized on a few, but ultimately let a win slip away, Portland fell short in a 2-1 loss against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night.
On Wednesday night the Timbers held a 2-0 lead in San Jose before succumbing to a frenzied Earthquakes comeback. On Saturday the Timbers went down 2-0 but ultimately equaled RSL with five shots on goal, while edging them in the possession department, only to come up empty-handed.
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“There have been some good performances on the road,” interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said. “Tonight wasn’t a bad performance from us. There have been teams that have come in here and done less against Salt Lake, and picked up a better result. As a coaching staff we’ll take responsibility and analyze it, look at what differences we could have made and see a way to move forward.”
It was certainly a better performance than the Timbers' last outing at Rio Tinto on July 7, which ended in a 3-0 dismantling without a single shot on goal for the Timbers. It would mark former head coach John Spencer’s last game before he was dismissed.
On Saturday, after a somewhat tentative first half, which saw set-piece goals from RSL's Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales, Portland took the fight to RSL’s half after the break.
Midfielders Sal ZIzzo and Franck Songo’o, along with Dike, who came on to start the second half, all gave RSL’s back line problems.
“We went into the half 2-0 down, but in the second half I think the boys responded very, very well,” Wilkinson said. “They were positive in the way that they played. We tried to have a little bit more purpose to our possession, and we were unlucky not to score a second. … I think the possession stance of this team has changed dramatically from what they were. We look a lot more comfortable with the ball, but results are what it takes.”
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The reality is a brutal one for Portland, now winless in 15 games away from home this year. They’ll have just two more chances – in Cascadia Cup away matches at Vancouver and Seattle – to avoid becoming just the fifth team in MLS history to fail to register a win on the road in a season.
“Not only are they road games, but they are against Vancouver and Seattle and so that adds more to it with it being the Cascadia Cup,” midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. “They are big-time rivals for us so there is definitely some extra importance.
"The reality of it is that we don’t want to go down in the record books as the team that was the worst of the year. It’s getting better, but we need to be able to walk out of here with three points.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.