In the two games before Saturday’s trip to Minnesota, the Portland Timbers used late goals to make victories out of draws. Jeremy Ebobisse was the hero a week ago against visiting Dallas. Felipe Mora ignited the Providence Park crowd on Wednesday against Los Angeles FC. Thanks to those goals, the Timbers were riding a two-game streak ahead of today’s match against Minnesota United. The team had finally captured some momentum.
Tonight, Portland’s late-match fortunes evened out. After keeping Minnesota off the scoresheet for the game’s first 73 minutes, the Timbers conceded to Chase Gaspar and Robin Lod, seeing a one-goal lead reversed late in a 2-1 loss at Allianz Field in Saint Paul.
“An unfortunate, frustrating result,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said, “because we fought through it, we defended very well besides probably two individual moments that allowed [Minnesota] to be able to find space. Yes, we suffered a little bit in the second half, in which we could have kept the ball. But we were in the game.”
Felipe Mora put the Timbers up early, heading a Dairon Asprilla cross home from 14 yards out to suggest Portland’s momentum had traveled with the team to Minnesota. For much of the game, it looked like that intangible was carrying the Timbers, as many of the game’s tangible factors had turned in United’s favor. By the game’s 70th minute, the home side had outshot their guests 20-7, with the quality of those shots giving Minnesota a 1.7-0.3 lead in expected goals.
Soon after, Minnesota’s persistence paid off. Off a cross from the team’s left, Gaspar won a one-on-one battle against Dario Zuparic, heading a floating ball down and inside the left post to make it 1-1. Eleven minutes after that, Minnesota found Lod near the penalty spot with a pass sent in from near the centerline. His far-post finish gave United a lead that matched their quality of shots.
“Credit to Minnesota,” Savarese said. “They continue to push forward.
“When you're rested, you have more legs,” he said, alluding to Minnesota not playing mid-week. “Unfortunately, towards the end, just moments allowed them to get this win.”
Mora’s goal and the lead Portland held make the result feel worse than it is. Of course, it should be disappointing. Anytime you lose, it should feel bad, particularly when you were five minutes and stoppage time from getting a result. But for the Timbers, this was a third match in eight days. They had to travel in between the second and third, and although the team has talked about the relief of Yimmi Chara and Mora’s returns from national-team duty, the team is still shorthanded. Eryk Williamson is with the United States. Claudio Bravo is with Argentina. Jaroslaw Niezgoda is still coming back from his torn ACL.
That was the context match reports kept repeating in May and June, but after two home wins, it felt like a page had turned. Maybe it had. Maybe tonight’s game was more about the fatigue, and a busy week, and the realities of MLS on the road. Maybe though, it was all those reasons combined with a reminder that the Timbers are still not quite themselves – or that life doesn’t necessarily get easy after two wins in a row.
Regardless, there’s reason for both concern and acceptance. Any time a team like the Timbers comes out of a game like that, where an opponent has so much control, you have to ask why. Was it the road? The schedule congestion? The quality of opponent? Even if those reasons make sense, they need to be explored, because at some point this season, Portland may have to overcome those types of challenges.
But ultimately, the team did have a demanding week, and they were coming off two good results. Over 90 minutes, the Timbers may have appeared to take a step back, but in the context of the last eight days, Portland is in a better position than they were before.
“There were so many good things,” Savarese said. “We just have to make sure that we continue to follow this path and continue to build from it. Now that we have all the players back, little by little players are starting to feel physically stronger, then for sure we'll see a lot more things from our team.”
We’ll need more context on today’s result to know if it’s a one-off, the start of a pattern, or maybe something more subtle. That context comes on Friday, when Portland returns to the field.