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The Portland Timbers went into tonight’s match at the Colorado Rapids with questions surrounding the team’s defense. Unfortunately for them, they left Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with more questions than answers. Thanks to Saturday’s 2-0 loss, Portland’s losing streak has reached three games, with the Timbers’ having been shut out for the first time since June 26.

“Today was one of those games where, unfortunately, it didn’t go our way, but I thought we did a lot of good things …,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said before alluding to the team’s other recent losses. “This defeat makes what we didn’t do the last two games a little more difficult.”

Portland went down in the last minutes of the first half when Rapids forward Dominique Badji headed home a Braian Galván cross from the edge of the Timbers’ six-yard box. Just past the hour mark, Diego Rubio doubled Colorado’s lead after running onto a failed clearance, converting one of the many chances the home team had over the game’s final half-hour. Though the Timbers improved on their performance from Wednesday’s loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, they still left the field with their third loss in eight days.

That result clinched a playoff spot for Colorado while moving the Rapids into a tie for second place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. Portland, on the other hand, remained in fourth place at the final whistle, and with the team unlikely to win end-of-regular-season tiebreakers against the teams above them, the Timbers likely lost their chance to move up the standings before the end of the season.

“Because we didn’t take care of business in our last two games, this [result] became a little more complicated,” Savarese conceded. “But I come out of this game a little more optimistic than last game, and I thought the guys did a good job to fight through and try to get a win.”

Portland came into the game having conceded five goals in their last two games, making the team’s defense their biggest concern at kickoff. Over the match’s first 45 minutes, that concern seemed to be addressed, with the Rapids left without a good chance as the game approached intermission. In the second minute of added time, though, Galván created space for a left-footed cross from near the Portland byline. When Badji found space between centerbacks Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic, the Timbers had their first defensive breakdown.

Rubio’s goal came after a good start to the second half for Portland, one that saw the Timbers control possession over the period’s first 15 minutes. But just as with the first goal, Colorado scored from a ball played in from the byline, this time using a failed clearance off a Mabiala header to score the night’s final goal. Rubio, running through the middle of the penalty area, met Mabiala’s glancing header in stride, slotting his shot past Steve Clark before the Portland goalkeeper had a chance to address the ball.

“What I think should have been better is a little bit more urgency in a few moments …,” Savarese said, referring to Colorado’s two goals. “Just a little more urgency to close the spaces quicker. That is the only thing, for me, that I see in this game in the defensive area, because I thought, overall, we did a lot of good things defensively.”

The goals were reminiscent of mistakes from the Timbers’ two previous losses: a 2-1 defeat last Saturday at the LA Galaxy and the 3-2, home on Wednesday to Vancouver. In both cases, Portland made mistakes they’d avoided during the eight-game unbeaten streak they took into the Galaxy match. Though the need to improve defensively has resurfaced, Colorado still exposed flaws.

An additional concern, though, may be the Timbers’ attacking performance. Coming into Saturday’s match, Portland had scored in 20 consecutive games. Even when their defense struggled at points this summer, the Timbers still found ways to score goals. Against Colorado, “we tried to keep the ball, [and] tried to create opportunities to score,” midfielder Diego Chara explained, but the game ended without a clear chance on goal. According to data from MLSSoccer.com, the chances Portland generated would only be expected to produce 0.3 goals, on average.

On Saturday, the team was without Sebastián Blanco, who was kept on the bench after picking up a thigh injury against Vancouver. They were without left back Claudio Bravo, who has missed the last three games with a thigh injury of his own, and the team’s second-leading goalscorer, Dairon Asprilla, gave way in the starting lineup as new Timber Santiago Moreno got his first start. Still, with the likes of Felipe Mora, Yimmi Chara and Diego Valeri on the field, Portland should have generated more than eight shots, even against a Colorado team that kept their 12th clean sheet of the season.

That Rapids quality needs to be remembered when assessing Saturday’s result. The Rapids are tied for second in the West for a reason. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the league throughout 2021 and have only lost once at home all season. In isolation, losing at Colorado is not a terrible result.

But points were not the only goal from Portland’s trip to DSG Park. Portland needed to address the questions that have emerged. Losses to the Galaxy and the Whitecaps had revealed new weaknesses, particularly in defense. No matter the result, the Timbers needed to show progress against Colorado.

That didn’t necessarily happen. The team played better than they did against Vancouver, but in terms of their defending, can we say Portland’s problems have been addressed? No, not yet. Saturday didn’t rise to that level, and while being shut out at Colorado shouldn’t set off any alarms about the attack, the Timbers have something else to monitor.

Savarese and his staff will have three days to make their evaluations. On Wednesday, the Timbers return to Providence Park with less room for excuses. At home, against the San Jose Earthquakes, with a growing need to show improvement, Portland can’t settle for anything less than three points. If they do, they may have to settle for losing fourth place and potentially losing the right to open the playoffs at home.

“We just have to make sure we stay focused on our path,” Savarese said, to close his press conference. “It’s all in our control to manage what is going to come this season.”