The Portland Timbers returned to the win column for the first time since lifting the MLS is Back Tournament trophy Aug. 11, and head coach Giovanni Savarese quickly identified what changed in Sunday’s 2-1 road win over the Seattle Sounders.
They compiled a focused performance across 90 minutes, something that proved lacking in their recent 0-2-1 stretch at Providence Park. They leaked 10 goals during that three-game winless span, including a 3-0 defeat when hosting Seattle on Aug. 23.
“I have to say the difference is that it was a complete performance," Savarese said. "In the other three matches we had good moments, but not good enough and we conceded too much. When we defend all together and we're on the same page, then we're a difficult team to be broken down. We showed it again today.”
Portland didn’t post a shutout – they haven’t done that since a 1-0 victory March 8 over expansion side Nashville SC (pre-COVID shutdown) – but goalkeeper Steve Clark also wasn’t peppered with chances. He faced three shots on target, with Kelvin Leerdam’s 42nd-minute volley the only one that found net.
Portland also weathered two key injuries, as center back Larrys Mabiala exited at halftime with a right thigh injury and midfielder Sebastian Blanco departed in the 5th minute with a right knee injury that the club is still evaluating. Even as reinforcements entered, Portland’s resolve remained.
“The difference was that we were able to perform the entire match, not like the three previous matches in which we had good moments, but also some other moments in which we lacked concentration, we allowed teams to be able to find moments to unbalance us,” Savarese said. “I think today what was the key factor, it was how in tune everybody was with each other, in the second half how well we moved the ball from one side to the other, how we took the spaces that we wanted to find in order to create opportunities.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Portland's 2-1 win over Seattle
Those opportunities were often orchestrated by midfielder Eryk Williamson, who played arguably his best game in MLS. Williamson scored in the 9th minute off a beautiful give-and-go with Diego Valeri, and then slipped Felipe Mora through for the game-winner in the 83rd minute.
But even Williamson returned to defensive solidarity when addressing what inspired the Timbers' turnaround after a post-Orlando slump.
“A huge focus point for us was defending and being at home when you're on the front foot, I think we took our eye off of it,” Williamson said. “It's something we did well in Orlando and coming here to Seattle, it's something we knew we needed to get a result.
“We dropped points at home and ultimately guys came out and did exactly what was asked for. I think they had two to three shots on target, and that's something that we want, especially playing away from home. If teams aren't getting good chances, then ultimately we have control of the game.”
Portland will need to channel this identity moving forward, as their remaining two games of the Phase 1 restart are on the road. They face a slumping LAFC side next Sunday, providing another chance to show why they won the MLS is Back Tournament (11:00 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).