Timbers try to reverse their inability to hang onto leads

Spencer: Portland need maturity to slow game down when ahead

Diego Chara, Timbers vs. TFC, 7.30.11

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer believes his team’s struggles in holding leads are actually due to playing a little bit too well.

While it may seem counterintuitive, Spencer said that assessment has to do with the pace of the game and having the “maturity” to slow things down.

“Everybody is trying to drive forward and get that goal and get a log of timber,” Spencer said Saturday night, referring to the Portland tradition of giving a Timbers player who scores a goal a slice of a log. “At times, you’ve got to try to put your foot on the ball, knock it back, keep the ball, get them to run instead of trying to go and score.”

He said his team may have been a little too excited after dominating possession early in Saturday’s home match against Toronto FC that ended in a 2-2 tie, getting off six shots on goal in the first 45 minutes and a season-high 11 for the match. But he said it led to a back-and-forth pace late in the game that allowed the Reds a chance to erase the Timbers’ 2-0 lead.

“You don’t need to score the third one and the fourth one when you’re 2-0 up,” he said. “I think it’s inexperience and a lack of maturing, not as people, but as professional soccer players.”

The pace was especially torrid for the Timbers as they introduced some fresh legs to the starting lineup. Sal Zizzo, a speedy midfielder making his third start for the Timbers, and Eddie Johnson, in his second start, showed impressive chemistry on attack. Johnson’s first-half goal against Toronto was his first in MLS.

“As a team, we could’ve managed it a little better,” Zizzo said. “At 2-0, we need to close out the game a little better. Guys are sick to their stomachs that we come in 2-0 in the 70th minute and can’t get a win.”

Losing leads late in games has indeed as become somewhat of an epidemic for Portland, especially at home. The Timbers have squandered leads in three of their last four matches at JELD-WEN Field. And the 10 goals they have allowed in the final 15 minutes of matches is the most in MLS.

“[We] looked a quality team, but the game lasts for 90 minutes,” Spencer said. “And we’ve been struggling to do that this year — play for 90 minutes.”