Portland Timbers with early lead but unable to hold on in loss to LA

The Portland Timbers haven't often played with a lead this season.

In fact, Portland have scored the first goal only five times in 2014 and not since June 1 in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

So when they struck first Saturday against the LA Galaxy on Saturday, thanks to a Diego Valeri free-kick blast in the 14th minute, it was almost as if they didn’t know how to react. That was the takeaway from head coach Caleb Porter as he watched his side concede three unanswered goals in a 3-1 loss on a steamy afternoon at the StubHub Center.

“After we got the goal, we stopped playing,” Porter told the media in his postgame comments. “We played very reactionary. And it was as if we tried to ride out the 1-0 result, and that’s just not us. And LA was the better team in that period, and I thought they were the better team at the end of that game as well. They deserved to win.”

The Timbers nearly hung on long enough to get to halftime with their one-goal advantage.

But LA’s dominance – Portland had just 37 percent of the possession and completed 65 percent of their passes with Valeri’s goal was their only shot in the first half – finally came back to haunt them when Gyasi Zardes got his head on the end of a cross in first-half stoppage time for the equalizer.

Even in Portland’s two consecutive wins coming into the game, over the Montreal Impact and Colorado Rapids, they conceded the first goal.

“I thought we looked uncomfortable when we got that goal,” Porter said. “And maybe it’s because we haven’t been in that position a lot this year. So we finally found the first goal, but then we stopped playing the way we’re accustomed to playing. … When things aren’t going your way and you’re absorbing a bit and you’re struggling, you’ve got to find a way to get to the dressing room up 1-0. And then you circle the wagons and you adjust, which we did at halftime but now it’s 1-1.”

Portland did, however, come out of the locker room a bit more proactive.

Maximiliano Urruti and Kalif Alhassan both had good looks early in the second half. Also early in the half, with the game still at 1-1, Alhassan got behind the defense and went to the ground following contact with Robbie Rogers in the box, but the whistle never blew.

LA put the game away when Keane headed home a Landon Donovan cross in the 73rd minute. Keane’s spot kick goal in the 85th minute led to the final score.

“I liked the response to start the second half,” Porter said. “I felt we were as good or better than them, up until they scored the goal.”

Portland were without star attacker Darlington Nagbe, who missed his first game of the season because of a knee injury sustained in last Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Montreal Impact. Coming into the match, Nagbe had appeared in 88 of the past 89 regular-season matches. Attacker Steve Zakuani was also out of the 18 for the second straight game, and forward Gastón Fernández had to be subbed out with an injury in the 25th minute.

“We were a little more thin in this game,” Porter said. “In going to the bench, we didn’t have Zakuani, couldn’t start the game with Nagbe and then bring in Rodney [Wallace]. So we were a couple players short, so you saw a little bit when we had to find a goal we didn’t have that extra gear to find.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.