Getting off on the right foot: Portland Timbers look to control games early
BEAVERTON, Ore. – The Portland Timbers took a different approach to their first day back at training since playing Chivas USA to a 1-1 draw over the weekend.
The club went through a pool workout, video session and meeting Tuesday morning, before going into to two days for on-pitch preparations for Friday’s Western Conference matchup against the Colorado Rapids (7:00pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940).
But head coach Caleb Porter said the issues his side need to work out aren’t manifesting themselves in the form of fitness or form. The problem has been in the heads of some of his players.
“At this stage of the season, we know we’re fit,” Porter said at the team’s training facility. “It’s about making sure we’re healthy and making sure we’re fresh. Sometimes less is more. We wanted to break the rhythm. … And talk about the mindset we should have going into these last six games.”
Porter reiterated Tuesday what he was displeased with after an early goal by last-place Chivas resulted in a missed opportunity for a much-needed three points by the Timbers. He said his team needs to focus on improving their mindset early in games.
After Saturday’s game, Porter said a few of his players were too “casual,” resulting in a 23rd minute goal by Bryan de la Fuente and the Timbers chasing the game the rest of the night.
“Sometimes you’re not always in the right spot mentally,” he said. “And we addressed that today.”
Slow starts have indeed cost Portland some crucial points, especially recently.
Real Salt Lake went up 2-0 in the first 15 minutes of their 4-2 win over Portland on Aug. 30. Prior to that, Portland had come from behind to snag at least a point in 11 games.
“We don’t want to be making a habit of that,” Porter said. “We’re capable of putting teams away early. We’re capable of playing at a very high level, in terms of how we push the game and the urgency we play with and the pressure and the attacking aggressiveness. … The reality is we need to show it to start games from here on out, and that’s going to be a big factor in us performing well enough to get enough points to make the playoffs.”
And when Portland controls the attack and score early, they usually win. They’re unbeaten in the 13 games that they’ve scored first, and they’re 5-0-1 in the six games in which they’ve scored the first goal in the first half.
“The common thread in our best performances this year was when we started games proactive, aggressive, and we didn’t wait until we needed to turn it up but we turned it up right from the beginning,” Porter said. “And that’s going to be our focus moving forward.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.