If you watched tonight’s game at Rio Tinto Stadium and think Vancouver Whitecaps FC will be the better of the two teams as the Major League Season unfolds, more power to you. The home team that’s playing away from home did win the game, 1-0, and ultimately, that’s what matters most. Vancouver got a result they can build on. The Portland Timbers were left reflecting on where they fell short.
But over the next few days, as that reflection cycles through film study, feedback to players, and new directives on the training ground, the Timbers should remember the positives. Ultimately, they didn’t do enough to carry the momentum from Tuesday’s Champions League win forward into league play, but the team didn’t concede a goal from open play, scarcely allowed the Whitecaps a decent chance, and generated a number of good chances of their own. On Sunday in Sandy, Utah, those chances broke in one direction while the Timbers fortunes went in another.
“It was disappointing, of course,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said about the result. “Every time that we don't find a way to get points, there's disappointment. The work that the guys put in, it was very good, and unfortunately, this game came down to details on a corner …
“Overall, even though we did a lot of good things and we played well, we didn't capitalize on the opportunities that we had.”
The Timbers were expected to win Sunday’s game. There’s no diminishing that. They should be disappointed with the result. Once you accept that —as well as the fact that hard-luck 1-0s are a soccer staple — you can start assessing how the performance reflects the team’s chances going forward. What about the goal preventions needs to improve? And what does the team need to do to score more goals?
The prevention comes down to one moment. Aside from the corner kick Vancouver’s Lucas Cavallini headed in during game’s 49th minute — as well as the chaotic sequence that led to the corner, when the ball went out off Steve Clark’s left post — the Whitecaps’ attack was a nonfactor. Around the moment they lost Cavallini on Vancouver’s corner-kick routine, Portland’s defense played well.
No team ever wants to concede goals. That should go without saying, but it’s important context when evaluating a performance like Sunday’s, because the team itself is going to admit they could have done better. In the big picture, though, teams must be able to win games where they give up single goals. Demanding a season full of clean sheets is unreasonable. Sunday’s defensive performance was enough to give Portland a chance at victory.
That leaves the goal production. There’s no doubt it was lacking. Portland failed to score, only tested Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau twice, and otherwise only registered five shots. In terms of raw numbers, it wasn’t good enough, and even if it was, the team needed to find away to score two goals. That was the challenge they helped create.
In terms of the underlying performance, though, there were reasons to be positive. The team generated a good chance for Dairon Asprilla near the end of the first half, but his overhead kick sailed high of a lightly defended goal. In the second half, the Timbers had plenty of opportunities for good shots in the Vancouver area, be it off of service from Asprilla on the right flank, layoffs like the one Yimmi Chara tried for an oncoming Josecarlos Van Rankin, or passes like Diego Chara’s that rolled through the middle of the box late in the game. Aside from a late Felipe Mora chance that demanded a great read from Crepeau, the common theme was a team trying to play the extra ball. The common outcome was not being able to get a shot off.
“I think we were good in finding spaces, in combining and creating opportunities in those areas that we were dangerous,” Savarese said, when asked about his attack’s execution. “The final part, credit to Vancouver in the way that they defended.
“[We were] a little bit too altruistic in some moments, when you’re in position to shoot the ball and you look for the pass. And sometimes moments, [we needed] a little bit more energy to believe in ourselves … Maybe [we could have been] a little bit more selfish in finishing, but we tried to combine, and things didn’t work out.”
On Tuesday against Marathón, the intricate play Portland tried to pull off in Sandy was more successful. That night’s opening score, blasted into the left of goal by Yimmi Chara after a Diego Valeri layoff, was the most obvious example. Against Vancouver, though, those decisions didn’t lead to shots, let alone goals. Does that mean they were bad decisions?
Perhaps. Within the context of Sunday’s game, more than perhaps. There was a zero next to Portland on the scoreboard. But as the team moves on to the next 33 games of their MLS season, and as they continue building toward their Champions League quarterfinal against Mexico’s Club América, is there truly something to worry about? Is there reason to believe the near misses Portland accumulated on Sunday will continue to be nearly missed?
Again, perhaps. But you could also understand if the Timbers players and coaches weren’t too worried about Sunday’s performance. The result, yes – you should always rue points dropped. But in terms of what Sunday said about what the Timbers can be moving forward, it might be better to recognize soccer is like this sometimes, and particularly one game into a new season, it’s fine to wait and see how things evolve.