"Casual" Portland Timbers dig another early hole, leave Caleb Porter looking for answers

The Portland Timbers’ lackluster start to their crucial game Saturday night against Chivas USA cost them a chance at three points, head coach Caleb Porter said.

And that’s a trend Porter is getting mighty sick of.

The Timbers are unbeaten, at 8-0-5, when they score the first goal. But when they concede first, which they have in three of their last four games, it’s obviously a different story. It resulted in two straight losses in back-to-back Western Conference showdowns against Seattle and Real Salt Lake.

And it was also the case in Portland’s 1-1 draw to last-place Chivas at the StubHub Center.

“We didn’t show up with enough hunger, urgency, had a bit of casualness in our play with a few individuals, and that can’t happen,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com. “They know it. I know it. We worked hard all week to make sure we would start the game aggressive, and we knew this was going to be a team that is much better than their record and for whatever reason we were a bit casual.”

Despite the fact that the Timbers were on their front foot much of the night, posting their usual dominant possession and shot totals, defensive lapses occurred often and early. It cost them in the 23rd minute when Bryan de la Fuente flicked a header past a helpless Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.

“Again, I don’t think it’s the entire team, I think it’s a few guys from time to time,” Porter said. “I thought there were a group of players together today that for whatever reason just weren’t as sharp and were a bit more casual than they needed to be.”

And that’s something that had Porter a bit miffed.

The message was the right one in the preparation leading up to the game, which presented a chance for the Timbers to reinsert themselves as one of the conference’s top contenders. Porter said he preached to his team that Chivas was not at all the side they dominated in a 3-0 win in May, thanks to the midseason hiring of head coach Jose Luis Real, the acquisition of veteran center back Carlos Bocanegra and the emergence of young goal-scorer Erick Torres.

Still, it appeared that message didn’t make its way to the pitch in the game’s opening minutes.

“I think it’s still us evolving as a club, I really do,” Porter said. “We’re finding ways to not lose games, and last year we’d lose this game. We wouldn’t find the goal or we’d score a goal and give up another goal. I think it’s part of the evolution.”

Of course, it could have been worse if not for the second-half substitution of playmaking midfielder Diego Valeri, who started on the bench thanks to a nagging groin injury. He scored the equalizer in the 50th minute to give Portland a much-needed point that keeps them in the West’s fifth and final playoff spot.

“The second half showed what we were capable of,” Porter said. “We just need to do that from the beginning, and if we do the result is different. It’s getting to the point now where we need to start correcting things, and one of the things we need to correct is starting games better.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.

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