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The Portland Timbers may have left the field disappointed tonight at Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park, but that disappointment will feel far different than what they experienced three nights ago. Looking to rebound from Sunday’s four-goal loss at home to the Seattle Sounders, Portland finished with a 1-1 draw in Kansas City, Kansas, earning a result against the Western Conference’s second-place team while having also missed their chance for more.

Felipe Mora’s 17th-minute goal, his seventh of the season, had the Timbers up deep into the second half when a one-on-one chance for Diego Valeri that ended with a shot just wide of goal could have put the team up two. Even after Sporting equalized in the 92nd minute through Daniel Sallói, they could have retaken the lead near full time, but a second late breakaway engineered by Yimmi Chara, Sebastián Blanco and Claudio Bravo failed to produce a winning goal.

The final, 1-1 result was huge progress from Sunday’s 6-2 loss, especially at the defensive end of the field. Still, the game ended with a feeling the Timbers should have had more.

“I think we deserved maybe the three points,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said afterward, perhaps referring to his team’s close calls.

“We were very disciplined. We defended very well,” he said. “We closed spaces in the moments we were able to move the ball. We created good moments going forward. The possession, in some moments the counters, we had good opportunities to, maybe at the end, come out with three points after the shift that everybody put in.”

Earlier this afternoon, Timbers fans would have surely taken this result. The team needed to show significant improvement, and undoubtedly, they did. A point on the road against one of the best teams in Major League Soccer is a good result.

On the defensive end of the field, that improvement was particularly pronounced. Three days after giving up six goals, the Timbers went the first 91 minutes of Wednesday’s match without conceding. On the road against the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference, Portland gave up four shots on target despite a game state that allowed Kansas City 69.2 percent of the ball.

From Mora’s goal on, Portland relied on their defense the deliver a result. It was almost three points, but the team still preserved one.

“The associations in every area of the field were very good,” Savarese said. “The communication to make sure that we closed the spaces was very good. [Sporting] had to move the ball to different areas because they couldn’t find spaces to be able to penetrate and create moments that were a little bit more clear for them, because we were always in the right spaces.”

There was still disappointment as the Timbers left the field, though. That’s undeniable. For all the good work Portland did to put themselves in position to beat Sporting, they allowed their hosts to salvage a result.

“I think we did a very good job in the defensive side,” the team’s captain, midfielder Diego Chara, said. But, “now we need to be better in the attacking side, because we created a lot of opportunities, and weren’t effective. For the next game, we need to be better.

Despite Portland being minutes from victory, it’s hard to be too down about this result. The wounds of Sunday are too acute. As the Timbers left on their road trip, there was a feeling this two-game trip to Kansas City and, on Saturday, to Austin, Texas, could be a defining point of the season. If things went well, confidence could start growing, and the team could restart the process of building toward their potential. If things went poorly, though, Portland’s 2021 could spiral.

Comparing Wednesday’s draw to that hypothetical, worst-case scenario is comparing it to the lowest bar, but given how the wake of Sunday has felt, that comparison seems right. And in light of that possibility, the Timbers have reversed their momentum. They faced one of MLS’s best teams, put themselves in position to win, and although they had to leave Children’s Mercy Park disappointed, that disappointment was a sign of progress. Portland was so close to winning, they can be upset at not earning more. That’s long way from how things felt 72 hours ago.

This isn’t where a team with the Timbers’ talent should be. They know that. But they also know there’s time to improve and get back to their expected level, and that process has to start somewhere.

We’ll have to wait until Saturday’s game at Austin FC to know how of tonight was sustainable. But tonight was a good recovery, one that keeps Portland above the playoff line in the Western Conference. Tonight, the Timbers got a good result on the road.