So early in a season, you can afford to look at process instead of results. And while that perspective doesn’t change Friday’s bottom line, one that saw the Portland Timbers’ three-game winning streak come to an end with a 1-0 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, it’s important context when considering the team’s path forward.
On the surface, a loss is always going to be unacceptable. Beneath the surface, the Timbers are right to focus on a number of positives.
“These are the type of games that, if we play the way we played today, there are not many times we are going to lose,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said, afterward.
Consider the 27 shots the team had. A lot of that number is about game state, with Vancouver able to play more conservatively after collecting an early goal. But that total was still a team record for shots on the road, and whether you look at their first half corners or their second half close calls, the Timbers had a number of moments where they were inches from breaking through.
“We had chances. We attacked. We possessed the ball,” Savarese said. “I thought that we dominated the match, but credit to them. They defended very well.”
Then there’s the nature of the night’s goal. While there were other points where Portland’s defense broke down, leaving Vancouver with chances they could have converted, the host’s early score was more unfortunate bounce than backline miscue. Sometimes, those goals happen, and if they happen early, you hope your team has enough time to adjust. Tonight, Vancouver’s defense rebuked those adjustments.
At some point, the hosts’ performance has to be acknowledged. The Whitecaps have now taken seven points at home this season against Los Angeles FC, Seattle Sounders FC and Portland. They’ve allowed no goals over that 270 minutes. Like the Sounders, the Timbers seemed intent on collecting close calls, yet like Seattle, they left BC Place with a “0” on the scoreboard.
Over the course of a 34-game season and 17 matches on the road, games like this happen. An early goal. Facing a strong defense. Seeing a series of close calls. It’s why you can’t judge teams entirely by a one-game sample. There is always more losing teams could do to prevent results, but beneath Friday’s final score, there’s a perspective where the Timbers played reasonably well.
Here’s What We’ll Remember from Friday’s 1-0 loss in Vancouver.
The bounce that went against them
Look back at this goal and ask yourself what you would want the players to do differently.
The one thing that comes to me is a big ask: for Jorge Moreira to do more with the ball.
The Paraguayan fullback already makes a good play to cut in front of Fredy Montero and play the ball. Unfortunately, the ball falls right to Russell Teibert, who passes into the space Moreira left.
Should Larrys Mabiala had anticipated that play? Should Moreira had refrained from trying to win the ball? Both seem unreasonable, leaving us with a final, thin request: that Moreira get in position to make a more assertive play on the first ball.
Even that seems like a stretch. At some point, you have to accept that bounces go against you at times – that goals like those are why no team will ever keep a clean sheet for a whole season – and you have to have an attack that can respond. Ultimately, the best ask on that play was that the ball Moreira contests fall anywhere else.
Collecting close calls
When you leave a game without a goal, questions have to be asked of the attack, but the Timbers didn’t lack for chances in Vancouver. In some places, they lacked for conversions. In others, the Whitecaps found last-ditch solutions. Together, they kept Portland off the board.
“It was hard because they found the goal too quickly in the first half,” midfielder Diego Chara admitted. “After that, I think we did everything. We tried to create in every way to score. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
There was still the collection of corner kicks in the first half, two of which forced the best out of Whitecaps `keeper Maxime Crépeau. And then there was the stretch between the 72nd and 84th minutes where the Timbers generated four gasp-inducing tries. Desperation defending drew blocks and interceptions that stopped Jeremy Ebobisse and Sebastián Blanco. Diego Valeri fired a shot from short range into the chest of Crepeau. Lucas Melano failed to get a foot on Andy Polo’s near-perfect far post cross.
“Our guys were able to give everything that they had,” Savarese said. But, “between some saves and maybe a little bit more determination inside the box, maybe we could have gotten a different score.”
Come full time, the 15-shot margin between the Timbers and their hosts was the biggest edge in the team’s MLS history. In terms of the score, though, it didn’t matter. No matter how many gasps Portland drew, the Whitecaps were able to keep them off the board.
The end of a short streak
When the Timbers’ 15-match unbeaten run ended at the hands of Vancouver last season, it came with an empty feeling, one born of a subpar performance. There were no silver linings that day at Providence Park. Portland dropped a game they should have won.
Friday was different.
“(Overall), we had a very good game,” defender Larrys Mabiala said, “because we had the possession of the ball. We created chances – clear chances. Unfortunately, we were a bit unlucky.
“But I give credit to this team, Vancouver, who played with a lot of heart. They saved a lot of balls off the line, and it was difficult for us to find a goal. But if we keep going this way, we will win more games than we lose.”
Perhaps some will see Friday’s match as another the Timbers should have claimed, but that doesn’t give enough credit to the opposition. In snapping Portland’s three-game winning streak, the Whitecaps showed their performances against LAFC and Seattle can be replicated, particularly at home. Though that may have brought the end of Portland’s winning run, it did so in a deserved way, proving that the rebuilt Whitecaps are destined to be a difficult opponent.