BEAVERTON, Ore. – Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson found some special words to describe yet another mystifying performance from his team.
“We’ve got the heart of a lion, but the brain of a goldfish at times,” Johnson said in a TV interview immediately following Portland’s wild 3-3 draw against the Columbus Crew that saw the Timbers overcome two one-goal deficits all while down a man.
Euphemism aside, the Timbers sure haven’t made it easy on themselves in their slow start to the season. Head coach Caleb Porter has certainly gone hoarse harping on the silly mistakes his club keeps making.
And that was the case once again against Crew.
Their two one-goal holes were thanks in large part to going a man down in the first half after an ill-advised tackle, leading to a penalty kick for the Crew and a goal seconds after a restart that deflected off a Timbers defender.
Porter and his team were understandably happy to have rescued a point despite the circumstances, but they’re also frustrated to keep making things so hard on themselves.
“We made some really poor mistakes, plain and simple,” Porter said following Tuesday’s training session at the team facility. “Last game, that was a bad mistake, red card early in the game, that probably cost us three points. So it’s tough.”
With the game tied at 1-1 after goals by Timbers forward Maximiliano Urruti and Crew forward Federico Higuain, 19-year-old defender Alvas Powell, starting due to an injury to Michael Harrington, steamrolled Crew defender Chad Barson in the 34th minute, drawing straight red.
“It’s tough, a young player learning still, developing still,” Porter said. “And he showed his youth. That’s a rash challenge, you can’t do that, and you hurt the team.”
It came back to bite the Timbers in first-half stoppage time when, on a corner kick, Giancarlo Gonzalez was left unmarked and in trying to recover, Mamadou “Futty” Danso pulled him down as he went up for a header. That led to Higuain’s penalty-kick goal.
But the Timbers weren’t done shooting themselves in the foot.
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After Johnson tied the game at 2-2 in the 80th minute, the Timbers inexplicably allowed Ethan Finlay to get on the end of a Higuain cross on the restart for a goal, that deflected off Danso as he tried to clear, just seconds later. It would have spelled doom if not for Gaston Fernandez’s game-saving strike in the 85th minute.
“Just frustration, man,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s training session when asked about his postgame comments, noting he doesn’t regret offering up the blunt assessment. “You put a lot into these games, and you know, first goal you tip your hat to the guy because it was a great goal. But second and third ones, that’s where it frustrates you to the point where you see your emotions come out like that.”
Both Porter and Johnson said the team will work this week on being more composed under pressure, especially in their own third. But it ultimately comes down to, they said, being mentally strong when facing adversity.
“It’s made it tough, for sure,” Porter said of his team’s mistakes. “We’re going to keep fighting, keep plugging away. You know that, you’ve seen that. I’m confident that at the end of the year that we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.