PORTLAND, Ore. – At this point, the Portland Timbers will take a positive anyway they can get it.
There was no shame when interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson commended his team’s performance Tuesday in a friendly against EPL side Aston Villa. After playing to a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes (which was later decided in Villa’s favor, 5-4 on penalty kicks), Wilkinson said there were a number of positives. He pointed to solid showing by a number of younger players and the fact that they netted two goals – against a team that shut out their first two MLS friendly opponents.
HIGHLIGHTS: Timbers-Aston Villa
And positives have been in short supply for the Timbers recently.
“I think the fact that we scored two goals against a team that hasn’t been scored on in this tour [is a plus],” Wilkinson said. “Even though it’s during [Villa's] preseason, I think their ball speed, their ball movement, the individual movement off the ball, I think they play good football. And we coped with it. We kept our shape; we broke them down.”
Wilkinson utilized nearly the entire roster, and one player in particular made the most of his rare first-team minutes. Forward Sebastián Rincón, an 18-year-old Colombian rookie making his first appearance in a first team Timbers uniform, scored Portland’s first goal in the 76th minute.
Wilkinson also pointed to the fact that Rincon and fellow rookies Andrew Jean-Baptiste, called up from his loan to the LA Blues, and Charles Renken all coolly converted on their penalty kicks at the end of the game.
“It’s more mental than anything, and for Charles Renken to hop up there and finish his PK, Sebastián and also Andrew Jean-Baptiste, it says a lot about them as individuals,” Wilkinson said. “And mentally, it’s a good building block for them as individuals.”
Wilkinson also commended the performance of rookie forward Brent Richards, who started the game and played 69 minutes. And as the playoffs slide farther and farther out of reach, Portland’s youngsters may factor more into Wilkinson’s plans.
“These opportunities I think showcase some of the younger players,” he said. “And one of the comments I made, there’s no doubting we have the technical ability. You’ve seen some good performances from some young players.”
Now the Timbers will look to carry the positives to a game that counts in the table when they play host to Chivas USA on Saturday at JELD-WEN Field (8 pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940; Presented by Flir Systems). And for a team currently on a four-game losing streak and coming off two-straight shutouts, Wilkinson said there’s no doubt that Tuesday’s game – even if it was a friendly – is a step in the right direction.
“I think this is a great reflection, and the guys have regrouped,” Wilkinson said. “They’ve been rallying around one another. Before you rebuild, maybe you have to hit rock bottom. And going forward, there are a lot of positives. I still believe that we’ve got some very talented players.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.