Jorge Villafana, Timbers vs. RSL, 8.29.29
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Timbers aim for more consistency of strong play as Vancouver approaches: "We need to be aware the whole 90 minutes"

The Portland Timbers’ match on Sunday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC won’t technically be a home game, even though it will be played at Providence Park (7pm PT, ROOT SPORTS). Due in large part to the quarantine requirements Canada’s government has put in place for people entering the country, road games in Canada for U.S.-based teams are impractical; at least, they’re impractical if your league’s schedule can’t allow for two-week quarantine periods. As a result, all of the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and the Whitecaps are taking up temporary residences in the U.S., with Vancouver playing their next home games in Portland.

That allows the location of Portland’s next game to remain consistent, with the Timbers coming off a 1-0, Wednesday night victory over Seattle Sounders FC in Goose Hollow. But another place the team wants consistency is in their level of performance, with Wednesday’s level felt to be among the team’s best since their restarted the regular season.

“I have to agree with [Timbers goalkeeper Steve] Clark, that we haven't had that many complete matches,” Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese said on Friday. In the wake of Wednesday’s win, Clark remarked that Portland had played “a total game,” drawing a contrast between it and other games since late August.

“I think that we have had very good games that we did a lot of good things,” Savarese explained, “but in a matter of minutes – in some [games], 15 minutes; in others four minutes – we have conceded and allowed teams to come back or put us in a difficult situation.”

Portland did so when the regular season restarted, allowing three goals in a match’s final 18 minutes to lose, 3-0, to Seattle on August 23. Six days later, the Timbers conceded twice in second-half stoppage time and were drawn by visiting Real Salt Lake, 4-4.

The past two games have been different, and they have come against drastically different opponents. Against San Jose on Saturday, the Timbers added to the woes of one of Major League Soccer’s struggling teams, posting a 6-1 score on their hosts at Earthquakes Stadium. On Wednesday, Portland took down one of MLS’s best, pulling into a tie with the Sounders atop the Western Conference after defeating their rival for the second time in a row.

“Seattle, there in Seattle” Savarese said, alluding to Portland’s 2-1 in on September 6, “and this match in Providence Park, has been the two matches,” where the team gave complete performances, he felt, “with San Jose, as well, because I also believe the game against San Jose, the 6-1, were three matches in which we played very, very well and close to a complete performance.”

For some time, though, the issue with the Timbers hasn’t been an inability to put in complete performances. The run to MLS Cup in 2018 showed as much, as did the team’s rise up the Western Conference in late spring of 2019. Instead, the issue is consistency, with steps forward occasionally accompanied by a resulting loss of focus.

“I think we've been doing a good job the last couple of games,” fullback Jorge Villafaña said. But, “Going into Vancouver, we need to keep doing the same. We need to be aware the whole 90 minutes, and plus.”

Villafaña words reflect an expectation, one which, since Wednesday’s win, appears to be growing within the team. It was shared by Clark in the moments after Seattle, when he said, “We need another performance like this on Sunday.” It was also shared Friday by Savarese, who said, “We have to continue in the same path, and we're working very hard as a team to make sure we can have more complete performances.”

Vancouver is coming off a six-goal loss to Los Angeles FC on Wednesday. The Timbers know this, and they know that’s a double-edged sword. The Whitecaps are struggling, but there should also be a sense of urgency within that team come Sunday’s kickoff.

Still, that game is at Providence Park. It will be against a team Portland is favored to beat, arriving during a time when the Timbers are playing well. It is, across so many vectors, a game Portland should win, which makes the broader questions – the one which will define the Timbers’ fate at the top of their conference – even more important:

Can Portland carry their momentum forward? Or, will the team’s inconsistencies resurface?