Porter, Timbers look to eliminate the early goals

Team looks to for the right mix of attack and defense

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Two points from two extremely tough road games would make most teams fairly happy.

Not the best result, but not bad either.

But for the Portland Timbers, their last two results still have them champing at the bit to get their first win under new head coach Caleb Porter and – most of all – scratching their heads about why they keep falling behind early.

The Timbers have not led in any of their first four games of the 2013 season, but have managed to rally in each game to salvage three draws, and nearly grabbed a fourth back in their eventual 2-1 loss to Montreal. So what’s the problem?

“I think it is a mental thing,” Porter said after Monday’s session at the team’s training facility. “I think when it happens then now you’re worried it’s going to happen again, so sometimes it can be a bit of a mental block similar to getting that first win, similar to scoring that first goal. There are little things that play into the psychology of that.”

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Even if Saturday’s 2-0 hole dug against the Colorado Rapids on a blustery day at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was a bit fluky – thanks to a 30-yard bomb from Dillon Powers and a penalty kick on a hotly-contested call in the area – four consecutive games does mark a trend. And Porter said they’re taking a hard look at what adjustments need to be made.

“Was it personnel, was it system, was it game plan, was it conditions?" he said. "Those are all things that we’ll consider and look at this week and that will be the basis for our decisions going into this next game."

Porter did offer a few insights into what’s plaguing his team early in games. He said in their first three games, he felt they came out too aggressive, leaving the defense exposed. Against Colorado, he felt his players had a lackluster start.

“So we have to find that right balance between going into games proactive and being on the front foot but also not getting opened up,” he said. “But we also don’t want to be tentative either because we’re at our best when we’re aggressive, when we’re attacking, when we’re pressing. And early [against Colorado] we weren’t doing that. ... Clearly we have to be better at managing the early part of a game and finding that right balance between being aggressive but also in control and patient and composed and mature.”

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Still, Porter said it was a point on the road – the Timbers’ first at Colorado since joining MLS three years ago – from a performance he called “ugly.” He said it’s ultimately left the group very confident that they are on the verge.

“I think we need a breakthrough, in all honesty. I’m new, these guys are new and we’re all competitors and we all want to win and we haven’t won and so it creates a bit of frustration. ... I think it’s just getting that first goal, which we haven’t gotten, and getting that first win and I think this whole thing will start to snowball. These guys know we're on the cusp of a breakthrough. They’re not happy, but they a very upbeat and encouraged. It will come.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.