Loss to Orlando leaves Portland Timbers looking for late-match solutions

After 79 minutes at Orlando City Stadium, the Portland Timbers appeared assured of their first victory of the Giovanni Savarese era. But after an goal-mouth deflection, a controversial whistle, and the relentlessness of Orlando City SC forward Dom Dwyer, the Timbers end their five-game, season-opening road stint winless, having fallen 3-2 to the Lions to end their away spell at 0-3-2.

It was the second match in a row where the Timbers gave away points late, having drawn against the Chicago Fire last week after a late Brandon Vincent goal, but there was no one clear issue that undermined Portland on Sunday. Instead, it was as confluence of fortune, self-inflicted wounds, a Dwyer determination that leave the Timbers winless, the Lions having scored all their goals from the 80th minute onward.

“In the end, I have to take responsibility for the result,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said in the moments after the final whistle. “I take the full blame for the result. The players, they gave me everything. They have been traveling for five games away …

“At the end, guys were breaking down all over the place, because it has been a long five games away. But, as I said, I take full responsibility for this defeat.

For most of the match, the Timbers were on track for a breakthrough. An early chance created after passes from Andy Polo and Diego Valeri nearly ended with Sebastián Blanco sent off, referee Baldomero Toldeo having initially whistled the Argentine for simulation. Already carrying a yellow card, Blanco was initially dismissed, but when video review allowed Toledo to overturn his call, Valeri converted the ensuing penalty, giving Portland a lead in the 20th minute.

It was the beginning of what should have been a day of firsts. First two-goal lead, after Bill Tuiloma opened his MLS account in the 59th minute. With 11 minutes left in the match, Portland appeared on track for their season’s first clean sheet as well is their first victory; a two-goal one, to boot.

“We had the legs,” Savarese said, explaining his team’s strong, initial 79 minutes. “We had the legs to cover. We covered well.

“As soon as we won the ball, we went forward in the attack, and we created a lot of space, and we created good chances,” Savarese continued, saying he was “very proud” of his team’s effort. “We had to put [our chances] away, But, until that point, we were fine, until the moment that we couldn’t go anymore. Once they found the first goal, that little distraction, then we just collapsed.”

The clean sheet went away in the 80th minute when a Yoshi Yotún corner found two unmarked Lions short of the near post. Chris Mueller’s flick went off the side of Dairon Asprilla’s head and into Jake Gleeson’s net, giving the rookie attacker his first career goal.

Two minutes later, a disputed penalty call put Sacha Kljestan at the spot after Dwyer initiated contact with Alvas Powell, falling at the edge of the six to earn a whistle from Toledo. Dwyer’s initiative payed off when Kljestan finished into the left side of goal, paving the way for the Timbers to return home without their first win of the season.

“I can’t say anything, because I’m not able to say what I want,” Savarese said, about the penalty call. “I didn’t see the replay. There’s VAR, and you hope that they get it right. Right now, I can’t comment on it, because I haven’t seen anything.”

Portland had their chances to pull even: both via Diego Chara; both set up for Asprilla. A long ball by Chara behind Orlando’s line in the 90th minute put his fellow Colombian in on goal, but Asprilla’s angle allowed Joe Bendik to cut off his chances at hitting the nylon. Four minutes later, a beautiful out-swinging cross from Chara found Asprilla far post, at the edge of the six, only for the Asprilla’s header to go wide.

Four minutes later, Dwyer crafted his own change in the right of the penalty area, sending Tuiloma to ground before beating Gleeson to deliver full points for Orlando.

“We could have killed the game,” Savarese lamented. “We could have killed the game and sometimes, if you don’t kill the game, and you give opportunities to the opposition, this is what happens.”

For two weeks, the Timbers’ performance implored onlookers to look beyond the results. In light of a 34-game season, most of which was still in front of them, the trajectory of the team’s play was more important.

Today, that trajectory held for 79 minutes, and had two chances in the second half that found woodwork gone in, the Timbers would have likely taken full points. Now, their path has turned. Though two of those goals were aided by misfortune, the Timbers put themselves in a position to have their result reversed. The confidence and control with which the team played its first 79 minutes were blunted by the Lions, who, after the shock of their first goal, wrestled away control.

That control turned the game for Orlando and could leave the Timbers reminiscent of their loss to the Red Bulls. Although Sunday’s final score was nothing like that 4-0 loss in Harrison, New Jersey, the team will fly home with a similar feeling of disillusionment, unable to grasp how quickly things went wrong, wondering where to go next. The same way Portland needed a broad reassessment after its wakeup against New York, it will need to reconsider that late-match play that has, over these last two games, left them with one point instead of six.

At least, for the first time this season, that reassessment will end with a game at Providence Park.

“I think the guys can’t wait to get home,” Savarese said, “to get that energy, to be backed by a group of fans that are going to be there for us. It’s definitely to a place that we’ll be able to enjoy and, hopefully, get a win.”

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