If the members of the Portland Timbers are being evaluated for next season, what they showed against the Seattle Sounders in front of a record crowd on Sunday at CenturyLink Field doesn’t bode well.
With a chance to win the Cascadia Cup with a win or a draw, the Timbers came out with little fight and were clearly outclassed in a 3-0 loss, the latest disappointment in a lost season.
The Timbers, now a point behind Seattle in the three-team regional derby, can still win the Cup with a win on Oct. 21 in Vancouver.
But performing well in a high-pressure environment with something on the line – and rewarding the club’s intensely loyal following, which also showed up for Sunday’s match in record numbers – was clearly a priority of the Timbers front office.
“It’s very, very important the way our season has gone,” Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said of the Cascadia Cup. “Our fans deserve a lot, lot more, to be honest. That’s what I’m most disappointed about, to be honest. We have such tremendous support and such great fans – we saw a lot of them here tonight – but they deserve a little bit more. I’m disappointed.”
As Portland’s chances at qualifying for the postseason have fallen by the board over the past two months of the season, Wilkinson, also the team’s general manager, has increasingly referred to the player evaluations he and future head coach Caleb Porter are conducting as the team plays out the final stretch of games. But Sunday’s performance offered little more than what the Timbers have offered throughout the season.
Portland remain winless on the road, with 12 losses in 16 attempts, and are now winless in their last six overall games.
“We have the mentality that next year, if fortunes being different, this could be a playoff game, and it means an awful lot coming into this environment and how we cope,” Wilkinson said. “Are we mature enough? We learned a little tonight about certain individuals. It’s going to be an evaluation process through to the end of the year. It was important to see a few players in different positions so we could go into the offseason making the right decisions.”
Wilkinson made several changes to the lineup for the match, inserting midfielder Rodney Wallace at left back for normal starter Steven Smith and giving Mamadou “Futty” Danso his first start at center back since mid-July for the injured Hanyer Mosquera.
And the missteps of the backline were costly. Danso allowed the first Seattle tally on an own-goal in the 25th minute. And forwards Eddie Johnson scored a minute later before Fredy Montero added on in the second half.
“I think maybe there was a little bit of unfamiliarity,” Wilkinson said of Danso and center back David Horst. “Those two haven’t played together an awful lot. You make a change in the middle of the back, obviously there’s a few concerns and chemistry is one of them.”
After playing Seattle to a 1-1 draw in Portland on Sept. 15 and Sunday’s result, the Timbers have now squandered two opportunities to hoist the Cup.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Horst said. “Hopefully the third time’s a charm in two weeks in Vancouver. It’s a good thing we have another shot at it. We can’t get down on ourselves that we just lost to Seattle.
“But the good thing in the Cascadia Cup is that we have another shot at it. We’re not going to let the same thing happen again in Vancouver. We’re going to go up there, we’re going to be ready this time and it’s not going to happen again.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.