BEAVERTON, Ore. – The path the Portland Timbers took to their first bye week of the season certainly wasn’t how head coach Caleb Porter drew it up.
Despite playing well, results were slow to come out of the gate – perhaps not surprisingly considering the absence of playmaker Diego Valeri and captain Will Johnson as they recovered from serious injuries from the previous season.
But despite Valeri’s return two months into the season, Portland hit a rough patch in mid-May, losing consecutive games for the first time this season. But the team heated up late that month, reeling off three straight wins and jumping up in the Western Conference standings.
With Valeri out again with a sprained ankle going into a home match May 27 against league-leading D.C. United and with the second lowest points-per-game average in MLS, Portland won 1-0. They won three days later, 2-1 at the Colorado Rapids, and again June 6 at home, 2-0 over the New England Revolution.
Now the Timbers are riding the franchise’s first-ever three-game winning streak in its MLS existence with a weekend off to bask in its glory.
“It’s been a hot topic here the last week, but yeah it was nice to keep things going,” said midfielder/defender Jack Jewsbury, who buried the game-winning goal at the death against Colorado, at the team’s first training session Wednesday since the New England win. “I think for us we’ve been looking to put consistent performances together and get wins on top of one another, so to be able to get out of that Colorado game with a win and get two in a row knowing we were coming home with a good opportunity to get three like we did was huge and now pushes us up in the standings.
“We’ve said all along if you can string some wins together it’s amazing how quickly you can jump in the standings, and we’ve seen that.”
And just two weeks after things seemed so bleak, the Timbers are in fourth place in the West, fifth in the overall table, with 22 points from 15 games. They face a US Open Cup match Tuesday against rival Seattle Sounders before returning to league play June 20 against the Houston Dynamo.
“We didn’t talk about it a ton to be honest with you,” Porter said. “But it feels good, it feels good for sure, and yet we’re not going to keep talking about a streak. We need to start another run, so I almost look at as we’re starting over again with Seattle and hopefully we go on another run.”
Following the New England win Porter said he felt like his team was finally seeing just due for quality performances that only lacked a finishing touch. He elaborated on that Wednesday, saying he could only point to four “poor” halves out of 20 after reviewing game film.
What’s changed on their current streak, he said, has been that “killer instinct” and “confidence” that comes from getting in the win column.
“I don’t think we’re playing a whole lot differently, but what I would say is we look very aggressive and proactive the last three games,” Porter said. “Our pressure I think has been a big difference, we’re scoring goals now and we’ve obviously defended really well, so we’re getting the balance right.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.