Amid the disappointments Portland Timbers fans have experienced in the Major League Soccer era, tonight’s result stands out. Perhaps it feels different than the last day of the 2016 season, when a playoff spot and the Cascadia Cup was lost amid a trouncing at Vancouver Whitecaps FC. There also was the pain of losing the first home derby against Seattle Sounders FC in 2011, as well as moments of pure helplessness, like the 5-0 loss at FC Dallas in 2012.
The context around tonight’s loss offers something new, though. Head coach Giovanni Savarese said, mid-week, that there are no easy games in MLS, and he was right. Even though the San Jose Earthquakes came into the day with the league’s worst record, weakest attack and worst defense, Matías Almeyda’s team was able to breakthrough. The scoreboard at the end of the day may have read 3-0, but the feeling, for Portland, beneath the performance spoke to something worse.
The feeling is that of rock bottom, though until the Timbers take the field again, it’s hard to know if that’s true. This was Portland’s worst performance of the year, but it was only three weeks ago, during the second half at FC Cincinnati, that things seemed to reach a new low. Now, there’s something below low.
“For my part, and I think from the players’ standpoint, the only thing is an apology,” Savarese said postgame, directing his sentiments to the Timbers’ fans. “It’s not good enough, this performance today.”
The Earthquakes scored more goals in the first half than they had all season (3 to 2), and if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, the score would have been worse. San Jose put as many shots on target (13) as you’d hope to give up in three games, perhaps four. And the four tries Portland put on frame? For a team that trailed for 75 minutes, it wasn’t close to enough.
What We’ll Remember from Saturday’s game at Avaya Stadium is a feeling with which Timbers fans have rarely had to cope. Yes, Portland has had bad days before, but never did those performance come in circumstances like this. Against a team that lost 5-0 last week, the Timbers should have expected a result. Instead, they got another wakeup call.
Bottom of the league
With referee Drew Fischer’s final whistle, Portland found themselves 12th in the Western Conference, 24th in Major League Soccer, and not even halfway through their season-opening, 12-game road trip. Their 15 goals allowed are worst in the league, as is the team’s minus-10 goal difference. Along with Cascadia rivals Vancouver, the Timbers are one of two teams that have failed to collect a second point this season.
“I actually told the guys that if we don’t work, we’re going to lose this match like this,” Savarese explained. “We have to work. We have to be better. We have to make sure that our performance is – we have to step it up.
“This is not good enough. We had a very good game last game against the Galaxy. Today, we deserved to lose. We deserved to lose, 3-0. This is the reality of the match.”
It isn’t wrong to note that the team isn’t far off their pace of last year, when they has two points through the same number of rounds. And, with seven of 12 teams now making the playoffs in each conference, 2019 could prove more forgiving than last season. Those notes of perspective may be ill-timed, but they’re also true.
What’s more important, though, is that the Timbers realize where they are. Silver linings could be taken out of games at Colorado, Los Angeles FC and the LA Galaxy, while the loss in FC Cincinnati could be written off as aberration, but after tonight’s performance, all those games have to be reconsidered. Where those artifacts of a slow start, or harbingers of something worse?
Maybe it doesn’t matter, anymore. Wherever the Timbers were before Saturday’s game may as well be forgotten. That’s how bad it was. Western Conference Champions? A team that, after last week in Carson, California, was making progress? It feels so far away when you lose to the Earthquakes by three goals.
Troubles resurface at the back
Part of the reason last Sunday felt like progress was the improved performance of the defense. While the team did give up two goals, both were from the penalty spot. The Galaxy didn’t lodge any other shots on goal.
This, however, was more of what we saw over the first three games of the season:
As was this:
Though admittedly, this was something new:
This was the first time this year that San Jose’s attack looked good, but it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Portland’s defense struggle. Benching Zarek Valentin? Going away from the five-man line? Three hours ago, they didn’t seem like such bad ideas. Against San Jose, it was worth a shot, right? Hindsight, unfortunately, casts a different view.
Attinella, Langsdorf memories as footnotes
Amid a series of poor and average performances, Attinella stood out. You never want to give your goalkeeper a chance to set a career high in saves, but with 10 stops, the Timbers’ goalkeeper has a new personal record. So much of what happened with the team’s play needs to be scrutinized, but in Attinella, fans and teammates have one performance they can be proud of.
Likewise, those around Portland soccer should take a moment to recognize Foster Langsdorf. Undoubtedly, the Vancouver, Wash., native would have wanted his MLS debut to be under different circumstances, but with the Academy product’s appearance in Saturday’s 66th minute, we witnessed an important moment.
From scrawny teenage midfielder to Stanford record holder, from breakthrough USL debutant to Major League Soccer player, Langsdorf had a dream come true this weekend. He became a Timbers player, in full. The years of work that carried him through the academy, from Palo Alto, and back to Portland paid off, and while this is merely the next chapter in what’s bound to be a long professional career, it’s the chapter we’ve been waiting for.
It may feel like it, but not everything in Portland soccer is terrible right now. A new urgency needs to surround the Timbers, but amid that urgency, there’s still time to recognize what Attinella and Langsdorf have done. And after that recognition, it’s time to wonder how the 2019 season can get back on course.