BEAVERTON, Ore. – Compared to other professional sport leagues, MLS's version of a midseason exhibition of the league’s best players doesn't really provide much of an “All-Star break.”
Sandwiched between two weekends’ worth of games, it’s generally business as usual for most teams – especially for the players not participating in the game.
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, however, figured to change that. As the eyes of North American soccer fans turned toward Wednesday’s 2015 AT&T MLS All-Star Game in Colorado, Porter gave his men – none of whom were named All-Stars – a three-day mini-break.
And it came at a good time, as far as he was concerned, with Portland coming off a disappointing 4-1 loss over the weekend at FC Dallas.
“It’s a long season, and you need to build in breaks, so we gave them three days,” Porter said after leading his team through their first training session back on Thursday at the team facility. “It was probably good timing, get away from it and reflect a little bit and then kind of clean slate. Last three games, we haven’t been pleased.”
In addition to that 4-1 rout, Portland drew the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 at home on July 18 and then suffered another lopsided loss on the road on July 11, 3-0 to the Philadelphia Union. In their last four road matches in all competitions, the Timbers have been outscored 14-1, souring what at one point was a stretch of six wins in seven matches that had them on the doorstep of the top spot in the Western Conference in early July.
Now they’re sitting in a tie for fifth place, six points off the pace being set by first-place Dallas.
So what gives?
“We’re giving up early goals, and you’re playing against a good team, and now you have to chase the game,” Porter said. “Factor in a big field with the LA and Dallas games, similar scenario: early goal, now we’re chasing it, playing teams that are explosive in the attack with individual players that with time and space will open you up.”
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In the losses to FCD and LA, a 5-0 defeat on June 24, they conceded the opener in the 12th and 13th minutes, respectively. And they could be in store for a similar scenario in their next matchup, Sunday's match on the San Jose Earthquakes’ expansive pitch at Avaya Stadium (5 pm ET; ESPN2).
“It’s not easy to overcome that,” Porter said of falling behind early on the road. “I think you start chasing because you want to win, and now you’ve given up the next one. … It’s just not a good formula.”
Porter said in the time away from the training pitch this week, he reviewed the film from Portland’s three road wins this season, at the Colorado Rapids, Montreal Impact and New York City FC. He hopes to match those results against a San Jose team he called very dangerous despite their four-game losing streak, thanks to the return of US international captain Chris Wondolowski.
“We were compact and patient; we found the first goal in all three of those games,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.