PORTLAND, Ore. – Time and time again, Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer has insisted his side is not as bad as its four-game losing streak would indicate.
Using the Timbers' glimpses of brilliance against quality teams such as Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy as evidence, Spencer says Portland’s quality will soon yield results. That theory will most certainly be put to test Saturday night at JELD-WEN Field when MLS’ best team – 7-0-0 Sporting Kansas City – pays a visit (7:30 p.m. PT ROOT SPORTS, Freedom 970, La Pantera 940 AM)..
“We have the quality here,” Spencer said. “Confidence is taking a bit of a bashing. We’ve been battered from pillar to post in the media in certain cases. And there comes a time when players need to stand up and us as coaches need to stand up and say enough is enough, we need to get back to winning games.”
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To do that the Timbers will have to face head on what has been their nemesis the past four games: shying away in crunch time. After jumping out to leads in their last three games, Portland have given up late goals in losses to RSL, Chivas USA and the Galaxy.
And SKC’s body of work has left little doubt that their gameplan is to put teams on their back foot with athleticism and physicality. Against Vancouver on Wednesday, Sporting was ahead 3-0 before the Whitecaps could get things going en route to a 3-1 result.
“It’s a very physical, tough, high-intensity game for them,” Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “They had a bit of a fistfight for them. It was a bit of a street fight in that game in Vancouver last night. They’re on a roll. For us, it’s a good chance. It’s a good chance for us to prove ourselves.”
A lot will rest on whether the Timbers can improve a run of defensive lapses that led to a change along the backline when outside defender Lovel Palmer was benched against the Galaxy for Steve Purdy. On the other defensive wing, Mike Chabala replaced Rodney Wallace, who remains out with an ankle sprain. Midfielder Kalif Alhassan is also questionable after missing training because of a knee strain.
“We need to concentrate even more and focus even more as defenders,” Purdy said of Portland’s late-game collapses. “And that comes down to communicating and being very detailed orientated in where you’re at and your positioning. It’s something that we’ve learned from, but we don’t want to learn too many more times. We just want to execute defensively so things change.”
Bottom line, Timbers players have said this matchup is as good a time as any to turn things around. And a win against the league’s best team would be just the shot in the arm they need.
“We’re okay, but obviously it’s tough,” Perkins said. “You start doubting yourself. But at end of the day, you just turn around and say, ‘I’m here for a reason.’ It’s no different than if [the losing streak] happened in the middle of the season or happens now. So keep calm. Come out and do what we do.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.