PORTLAND, Ore. – And there went this year’s Cascadia Cup.
On a night when What We’ll Remember is dominated as much by events off the field as on, the on the field aspect can’t be ignored. The Portland Timbers would have won this year’s regional competition with Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC with any result on Friday. Instead, and for the second match in a row, the Timbers gave up two goals, never led, and lost an important game at home.
Unlike last week’s defeat at the hands of Atlanta United FC, this one will force some reflection. It can’t be cast as a blip, one where a series of good chances could have turned the game with a little more luck. That’s how Sunday felt. Tonight, it’s different.
Tonight’s 2-1 loss makes it two in row. Two games where the final product wasn’t there. Two games where mistakes at the back happened too often, as well as too soon. Two games that leave you wondering where, exactly, the Timbers are in their season.
It’s always a bad night when 900 people supporting your arch rival get to celebrate in your building, but in terms of the broader season, there are now other concerns. The swagger the Timbers had after finishing their season-opening road trip strong, and after getting road results at New York City FC, Seattle and Los Angeles FC, has disappeared. Now, the team needs to regroup.
“I think, right now, it’s important for the guys to disconnect completely and not think about anything,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said, when asked about how to move forward. “(The coaches) will make sure that we analyze the game for them; that we go back, when we train, and show them the things we can do better. But I think that they need a little time to make sure they can come back strong, mentally calm, and do the things that we do.
“Because when we play (well), we’re a very difficult team. But we have to do it through the entire 90 minutes.”
The Timbers are in an in-between space, right now: between the stretch when they proved they can compete with anybody in MLS and, if things go right in the future, the place they’ll be at closer to the playoffs, when they answer the questions which define the now. Those questions, however, will be part of What We’ll Remember as the season moves forward.
Here are the other memories we’ll take from Friday’s loss.
Jordan Morris vs. Zarek Valentin
If there was one matchup that defined Friday’s match, it was Seattle’s left winger versus Portland’s right back. Twice, tonight, Morris went left and beat Valentin to the end line. Twice, tonight, the Sounders ended up with goals.
It’s rare that, from a defensive points of view, a goal is a single player’s fault, and on each of these plays, there are questions to ask about what happened after Morris played back toward goal. But these are the one-on-one matchups fullbacks can’t lose. While tonight’s goals weren’t entirely on Valentin, each play started with Morris winning his battles.
Diego Valeri was responsible for Portland’s only goal, and in the match’s dying moments, he nearly crafted a decisive equalizer, too. Lofting a ball from the right sideline toward Stefan Frei’s far post, the Timbers captain dropped his cross on the head of Sebastián Blanco, who needed only to put the ball on target. But with Frei caught out of position, moving under a ball he could have never caught, Blanco put his try a foot over the crossbar.
It’s was a cruel twist for somebody who, on the night, had been Portland’s best player. More and more often, Blanco is the driving force behind Portland’s attack. On Friday, that meant pass after pass from the left flank, either into the space in front of goal or into the morass of bodies near the penalty spot. So often, Blanco appeared to play the right ball. So often, he and his teammates just weren’t synced up.
Then, he found himself on the other end of the equation. Five minutes into stoppage time. One cross that could give the Timbers this year’s Cascadia Cup. Ultimately, one foot separated Portland from reclaiming the honor.