The contrast between the last two Saturdays has been stark. Four days ago in Columbus, the Portland Timbers dealt with satisfaction and relief, exhaling with their first victory of the season, 3-1 over Crew SC. One week before, though, confusion and disappointment reigned after a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas, with controversial decisions leaving players and staff wondering if mystical forces were conspiring toward Portland’s winless start.
For Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese, however, there is a yin and yang element to the weekends’ opposing results, with the realities of Frisco’s disappointment laying the groundwork for enlightenment in Ohio.
“The mentality was the same in both games,” Savarese said, speaking to Portland-based media on a conference call from Columbus. “It shows when you have a game (where) you know that you deserve more, and you now that you put the work in,” as the Timbers felt they did in Dallas, “you know that you are close to getting something good for the team.”
That something good came on Saturday in the form of the team’s first victory of the season. In hindsight, it is easy to draw a line from disappointment in Dallas to achievement in Columbus, but a week ago, it was unclear how Portland would respond. Close calls earlier this season against the Colorado Rapids (3-3, draw) and LA Galaxy (2-1, loss) were each followed by three-goal losses.
For Savarese, though, a new element was introduced in Dallas, and while it would be too much to suggest that element defined the week that followed, a sense of needing to transcend more than opponents’ obstacles may have focused the team’s approach.
“That was the theme from Dallas,” Savarese said, remembering how close the team felt to a breakthrough. “It was a little bit of anger, as well, because we felt that in that game, there were (elements) outside just the game that (influenced) the game, where we didn’t understand exactly what happened. That created a little bit of discomfort …”
That discomfort carried over into a few crucial moments in Columbus, Savarese said – moments where the team responded differently than they had over the season’s first six rounds.
“(The team’s mentality was) in the moment that you see when, for example, you give up a goal like we gave up against Columbus,” he explained, “then right after the kickoff, we went at them right away. Or, when we scored the second goal, right after, we almost scored the third goal. That is a team that has the mentality, the good character, that is on the right path.”
The idea of a right path – of a way the team needs to continue working, if it’s to move forward – remains a steady theme around the team, with the lessons of Dallas potentially surviving one good result.
“That feeling, it’s not a good feeling,” Savarese said, “but it gives you the sensation that you are on the right path, that something good is coming on the path that you’re going (down).”
The path the Timbers are on now is no longer about searching for an outcome. It’s about building on a result. But just as last week, when Portland’s players could draw inspiration from a near miss, this week, the success of Columbus – and how the team persevered to achieve the result – can fuel Portland’s focus ahead of Toronto FC.
“We maintained the same mentality, the same character during the week,” Savarese said, of the Columbus preparation. “It was excellent. And then the game, our guys performed very well.
“In these two games,” against Dallas and Columbus, Savarese said, “(the players) have (shown) a willingness to do a better job than they have done in the past.”