PORTLAND, Ore. – Two late-match concessions in as many weeks gives coaches license to be harsh, but five games into a relationship with a new squad – with each of those five games away from home – demands a greater perspective, especially when, within those defeats, the team continues to make progress.
How much progress the Portland Timbers made in their 3-2 loss on Sunday to Orlando is open to debate, but it was the first game this season they had held a 2-0 lead. Come the 80th minute, that lead collapsed, leaving the Timbers with their third loss of the season, but until that point, head coach Giovanni Savarese saw his team at a new level.
“Offensively, we created a lot of chances,” he said on Tuesday, during his weekly press conference. “Defensively, we were solid. And, I think, even at a point in the game, we felt dominant.”
Through their previous four games, Portland had rarely been dominant, even in stretches. Their high moments in Los Angeles, in their season-opening game against the Galaxy, can be attributed game state, being down two goals when they assumed control. At Dallas and Chicago, the Timbers had moments of good execution, but dominance was still elusive.
Against Orlando, though, Portland played most of the game on their terms, had numerous chances, in the second half, to put the game away, but left empty-handed after a poor eight minutes. Even in light of those eight minutes, Savarese remains complementary of his team’s performance.
“I’ve seen a huge improvement from the guys, and I thought it was a fantastic game,” before the goals, he said. “It’s unfortunate not to have won that match because the way we played, it was fantastic.”
The defeat, though, on the heels of the previous week’s draw in Chicago, left many harkening back to last season’s issues holding leads, a problem the national television broadcast mentioned during Orlando’s comeback. For Savarese, the solution to that problem is straight-forward.
“The only way to correct it is by working, working and working,” he explained, “and the guys have put in the work to continue to become better …
“I have no doubt that we’re going to improve that, as well. I know that is something that has been part of the past, but we’re going to continue to work to make sure we minimize that as much as we can. With mentality, with concentration, we are growing in that area.”
Even here, Savarese highlights the team’s progress from the start of the season, noting, “Every [game], the players are giving more and more, so I’m very confident that’s not going to be an issue for us.”
For some, Savarese’s optimism may seem discordant with Sunday’s disappointment. After the loss in New York, for example, the new coach was much blunter with his criticism, noting the team’s effort at the end of the match was unacceptable. Sunday’s problems, however, weren’t born of effort, nor a lack of will. And, as opposed to reacting in light a team’s diminishing performance, Savarese was responding to an Orlando result that capped two games and 80 minutes of continued progress.
A harsh response would have lost perspective on that progress. So early in the season, with 29 games ahead, a coach has to strike a better balance.
“The team is on the right path in regards to the improvements,” Savarese said. “Now, we have to find that [path] with the results.”
The path’s next stop comes Saturday against Minnesota, a match where, for perhaps the first time this season, the Timbers should be seen as clear favorites. Implicitly, that ups the pressure to break through, even if Savarese remains measured in his approach.
“I go one game at a time,” he said, asked about the importance of the coming home matches. “We have to just be as strong as we can be this game, and then concentrate to the next, as we have done in the past games. And then continue to grow.”
The one aspect Savarese did single out as important was maintaining Portland’s advantage at home. Whatever challenges the team has faced, the edge they garner from Providence Park can’t be lost. According to Savarese, the Timbers’ home must remain a fortress.
“People have to understand that it is going to be a difficult time,” he said. “That is one thing we have to continue to create, because it has been something that has been part of the past, as well.”