PORTLAND, Ore. – At this point in the season, the Portland Timbers know better than to take anything for granted.
They're still feeling the sting of watching a seemingly sure-fire victory slip through their fingers when Real Salt Lake scored two goals in the final four minutes last Saturday at JELD-WEN Field. It flipped a would-be 2-1 Timbers win into a 3-2 RSL victory and sent Portland to their second consecutive loss.
So when a struggling Chivas USA side that has notched just one goal in four games comes to town for a Saturday match (7:30 pm PT, KPTV Fox 12, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM), Portland won’t be messing around. Especially considering they've fallen a goal down in their first four games, and scoring first would be just what the doctor ordered against the defensively stingy Goats.
“We’re looking to get the first goal,” Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury told reporters this week. “Because, especially with a team that’s going to sit in, if they went up on you 1-0, it makes it even that much harder to break them down. They’ll put more and more guys behind the ball.”
Chivas did just that when they toughed out a surprising 1-0 victory on March 24 over RSL. In that game, the Goats’ only goal of the season came in the 72nd minute, but the message the Timbers took away was clear: Don’t let Chivas dictate the pace of the game.
“They’re very stingy in giving up goals and giving up chances, so it’s very important we do get the first goal for the first time this year,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “And put teams on their back foot rather than us chasing the game.”
Of course, Spencer thinks Chivas may see something in the matchups that would encourage them to take a different strategy.
“They might not come and play four or five on defense and come on the attack,” he said. “That’s just taking them for granted or taking them lightly thinking they’re just going to come in here and pack it in. They may not have that respect for us.”
One bit of good news for Portland this week will be the return of midfielder Kalif Alhassan, who missed the RSL game with a strained groin. He trained with the team throughout the week, and Spencer said Friday that he’ll be “available at some point in the match tomorrow.”
Portland’s back line, however, won’t be at full strength with Hanyer Mosquera still unavailable as he recovers from a concussion. He sustained the injury, in addition to a fractured eye socket, in Portland’s 1-0 loss at New England on March 24.
“It’s not the fractured eye that’s holding him back, it’s the league’s protocol on concussions that we have to be very careful with,” Spencer said. “It’s a process with them. There are certain stages, and then he’ll eventually get cleared to play. But if he didn’t have the concussion he’d definitely be available tomorrow.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.