It was a 1-1 draw at CenturyLink Field. That is not a bad result. We can both acknowledge that and get it out of the way now, because there’s so much more to talk about.
From a second straight game turned by a stoppage time equalizer, to the missed opportunity to take control of the race for the West’s top seed, to the inevitable process-versus-results discussion that will happen, now, the Portland Timbers were left with a collection of regrets after their draw against Seattle Sounders FC, a result that leave both teams tied for first in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
“It’s unfortunate, we feel disappointed again,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese explained after his team’s second straight 1-1 draw. “We almost got three points again against a very difficult team, battling for the top of the West. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t close the match, but I’m extremely proud, because I thought that we had a very strong performance.”
Portland struck early and first, going up thanks to Andrés Flores’ right-footed finish from just inside the penalty area in the 10th minute. For most of the match, that goal looked like it would be enough for three points, with Seattle going 92 minutes without taking a shot that tested Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark.
But no soccer fan needs to be reminded how quickly a match can change, let alone the Timbers fans who had to endure the ending to Sunday night’s game. Then, visiting Los Angeles FC got a late goal from Christian Torres at Providence Park, turning what looked like a safe, 1-0 victory into a 1-1 draw.
It happened again tonight. On a 93rd-minute corner kick, a second ball fell to Seattle’s Will Bruin, who had just created space between himself and Portland defender Dario Zuparic. As Zuparic positioned himself to react to the deflected cross, that deflection went to Bruin in the space behind him, with the Sounders’ only shot on goal of the game beating Clark from close range.
“We just let those two points go away the same way we did [against LAFC],” Portland defender Larrys Mabiala said. “This is something that we need to work on. But at the same time, I don’t really want to focus too much on that … I feel the more you think about it, the more the same situation happens.”
Particularly during the regular season, a team’s process tends to be more important than their results. Luckily, one often leads to the other. While the nature of soccer means an isolated moment can skew a result, for the most part – and especially over time teams that play better get better results.
Portland knows that, which is why nobody is going to get too upset about the team’s last two draws. But there is a point where the results’ bottom lines start to matter more: when, with a loss, the process has to stop, because the season is over.
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In four games, the Timbers will be there: in the postseason. And a win tonight could have proven a big boost to their playoff chances. Had they held out for four more minutes, they would have won, moved three points clear of the Sounders in the standings, and had control of their own Western Conference top-seed destiny. Whoever earns that honor will play at home until MLS Cup.
Instead, the Timbers remain even with Seattle, though in terms of points-per-game, they’re slightly behind. The Sounders have played one fewer game than Portland. Instead of a win that created room between them and their rivals, the Timbers were left balancing process and results.
“I think we’re on the right path …” Flores said. “We can see today, the first half was very good for us. We were able to maintain the ball, to keep possession. And the second half, they probably had the ball a little bit more than us ... But I think we have to keep being positive and keep working in this way of playing, because if we believe in what we’re doing, I think we’re going to have good results.”
Nobody wants to hear it right after a draw like Thursday’s, but it wasn’t a bad result. Disappointing? Yes. But bad? No. The Timbers got a point on the road against one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. And perhaps as important, they played like a team that can control games against one of the best the league has to offer.
“There are so many positives that I can take,” Savarese said, “but the fact that we’re disappointed here in Seattle [with] a tie, it means we are a strong team and we put in a very strong performance.”