PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s been building for more than a month.
That’s how long the Portland Timbers have had to gnaw on their 1-1 draw at FC Dallas on May 8, in which a controversial call late in the match led to the equalizing Dallas penalty kick. It was a turn of events Timbers head coach Caleb Porter believed marred an otherwise stellar night of soccer between two of the hottest teams in MLS.
And with a rematch looming Saturday at JELD-WEN Field (5 pm ET, ESPN/LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), not much has changed since.
The Timbers, who sit in third place in the Western Conference, five points behind first-place Dallas, have continued to extend their franchise-best league unbeaten streak, now at 12 games. FCD’s only blemish since their last meeting against Portland came in a 4-2 defeat May 18 against Seattle, but they're unbeaten in their last three league games.
After training Friday at JELD-WEN, Porter said he hopes the fact they nearly walked away with full points from their last game against Dallas resonates with his group.
“They looked very focused and yet loose,” Porter said of his team’s mentality this week. “So psychologically we’re all in a good spot.”
Porter said he hopes his side also draws motivation from their last MLS result, a 2-2 draw at Chicago last weekend that saw the Timbers squander a 2-0 lead late in the second half. Porter said he saw his team play some of their best soccer of the year in that game only to “let their guard down.”
“What’s great is our belief in the locker room and with this team is that belief that every game we can win, not that we will win but that we can win,” Porter said. “And they truly believe that home or away, and when we don’t win … we’re disappointed. So for me, it’s a great thing that this group is disappointed in tie games. That means that we have really high standards.”
Timbers captain Will Johnson understands the importance of Saturday’s game. In fact, earlier in the week, he went a step further, saying that their next three league games, over a 10-day stretch, “will define our season.”
“Are we going to be fighting for first in the West or are we back to clawing for a playoff spot?” Johnson said. "We need to make sure we’re fighting for first place.”
Personnel-wise, the Timbers should have relatively fresh legs despite being in the midst of a two-week stretch where they will play five games. In their 2-0 US Open Cup win Wednesday over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Porter gave the day off to a number of his regular starters.
“We knew we would have fresh guys for Saturday, so we feel very good about where we’re at because the majority of the players who are going to play on Saturday are guys who will have their legs and mentally they’ll be completely energized,” Porter said. “So hopefully we’re flying. We feel good, confident. It’s going to be a tight game, and we have to perform well to win.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.