Tactical switch, strong defense keys to Portland Timbers run of form

PORTLAND, Ore. — For Portland Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese, whether it's a win or a loss, his outlook is the same: the previous game is in the past and the only game that matters is the next one.

"We believe in ourselves," Savarese said following a 2-1 win over LAFC on Saturday. “It’s just a growth, game by game. We have to continue to work. There are more areas that we need to improve. There are more areas where we need to become better. One step at a time and the guys are doing a great job.”

Turning an early-season challenge into a strength, it is the Timbers defense that has allowed them to extend their win streak to five games, the club’s most consecutive victories since joining MLS in 2011.

Portland has lived on the edge, though, relying on timely goals to keep the streak alive. Saturday was the third consecutive game that Portland scored the game-winning-goal in the final 10 minutes.

Tactically, Savarese seems to have struck gold using the 4-3-2-1 or "Christmas Tree" formation. Portland's attackers can go forward and implement Savarese's high press, buttressed by a trio of rangy and versatile midfielders who can protect the backline, but one or more will bomb forward as the situation demands.

"[Portland's] block of seven, their four defenders and then the way those three defenders are dropped in, they’re very compact," LAFC coach Bob Bradley said after the match. "Your ability to get through their [defense] is challenged. If you’re not good at it then that’s where they’re able to turn some of your misplays to counters because [Sebastian] Blanco and [Diego] Valeri are some of the first options as the ball comes loose and then [Fanendo] Adi is still higher on the field occupying defenders."

Portland has used 4-3-2-1 in four of their last five games. The sole exception being the 3-0 win over NYCFC when Savarese utilized a 4-4-1-1.

Besides enduring a stretch of five consecutive road games to open the season, Portland also began their season without goalkeeper Jeff Attinella as he dealt with a thigh injury. Getting his first start in mid-April, the Timbers and Attinella had three straight clean sheets.

"That’s a credit to everybody because defensively we’ve played really well," Attinella said of the scoreless streak that was halted by Carlos Vela's golazo on Saturday. "Fortunately, I’ve been able to make some saves when called upon, but that’s a team thing. My name will go with it, but that’s the whole team. Defensively, I think we deserve it and it’s time to start another one.”

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