PORTLAND, Ore. – As the Portland Timbers search for more goals, and in turn their first win of 2014, it would be easy to think that a little home cooking and a game in front of their loyal supporters at Providence Park could be just what they need to turn things around.
But with the Timbers' home grounds having earned a reputation as one of the toughest places in MLS to play, teams often come in more conservatively. So the potential of facing a bunkered in group Saturday in D.C. United (7:30 pm PT; ROOT SPORTS) does pose challenges of its own.
“Teams are happy coming in here and getting a tie, that’s obvious,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said after Friday’s training session at Providence Park. “The four home games we’ve played, all four teams, even Seattle, they were very happy getting a tie because it’s a tough place to play and we’re a good team. That makes it more difficult to get the win.”
Meaning, ultimately, it will come down to the Timbers’ quality in the attacking third, Porter said.
That was especially the case in their 1-1 draw on the road Sunday against the Houston Dynamo when Portland enjoyed nearly 60 percent of the possession but could only produce four shots on goal.
“If they are dropped off we need to have some quality individually and collectively to break open their defensive block, their low block, when they are low,” Porter said. “For me it’s making sure that – and we’ve worked on it all week – individually we take responsibility at times to go at players, get a half chance, drive, shoot. It’s having the quality in those final moments.”
Porter said it’s also “having the pride, collectively, to create goals.”
“We are looking at ways to be more aggressive maybe or different ways to be ruthless in the final third,” Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri said. "That’s soccer; the most important thing is in the boxes.”
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But that doesn’t mean the Timbers are expecting a completely one-sided possession game.
Porter said that while he expects D.C. to “drop off” when the Timbers have the ball, that won’t be the case for the entire 90 minutes. With a revamped roster following a 2013 campaign where they posted the league’s worst record and current five-game unbeaten streak coming into the game, Porter said “they’re not the same team that won three games last year.”
“Just coming in and playing for a draw is probably not doing justice to the players they have because they’re capable of going toe to toe with us because they’re talented,” said Porter, who credited United head coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper for the offseason rebuild. “I’m not sure, are they going to go for it and open it up or sit back more? I think it will be a little bit of both, probably.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.