Lifeless first half. Energetic, aggressive second half. Inconsistent play throughout. Rinse. Repeat. This has been the formula for the Portland Timbers during their winless streak which now sits at 6 games after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of once lowly Sporting KC Saturday night at another wasted, loud and sold out Jeld-Wen Field.
Despite coming off an embarrassing debacle at Dallas the previous week where the Timbers were blanked 4-nil and despite coach John Spencer trying to send a message to his players by benching starting forward Kenny Cooper and right back Jeremy Hall, Portland once again came out flat and sluggish and paid for it early.
Twenty minutes into the match, Sporting found themselves up 2-nil. The first goal coming at 15 minutes when CJ Sapong launched a dribbler that rolled past Portland keeper Troy Perkins, who must have been ordering a pizza on his cell phone as it caught him by surprise (a very soft goal in my humble opinion). It left the Timbers shocked at home once again.
Things didn’t improve as 4 minutes later, Sporting scored off a long throw-in when an unmarked Aurélien Collin headed in a goal while the Timbers defenders and goalkeeper stood and watched (soft goal #2, but I’m not bitter).
The rest of the first half saw the stunned Timbers squad pressing and the play got sloppier and less cohesive than before. This actually led to a chorus of boos throughout the home crowd. However, things did improve just before the half as rookie midfielder and #1 overall draft pick Darlington Nagbe scored his first professional goal and did it in “goal of the year” fashion. After receiving a deflection off the keeper during a free kick, Nagbe, who was 30 yards from the goal, volleyed the ball once and launched it midair, a pinpoint shot into the top corner of the goal to cut the lead in half going into halftime. “If Cristiano Ronaldo scores that goal tonight … or Messi, it’s spotted all over the globe in world soccer,” said Spencer. “Everywhere.”
However, despite that great goal and momentum going into the second half, and much improved, energetic play in the second half, the Timbers could not equalize. Actually it took a world class Perkins save in the 51st minute to keep the game from being 3-1 KC. After that the Timbers only could muster a couple of decent chances, the best coming in the 89th minute as Captain Jack Jewsbury picked up a deflection outside the box and launched a shot that sailed a couple feet wide of the net. The whistle soon blew. Game over. Another defeat at home.
Some troubling patterns are occurring with Portland. First, they are now 0-8-3 when conceding the first goal. That has to raise some questions about this team’s mental toughness. Secondly, only 1 point from the last four home games. Unacceptable! This squad needs to take advantage of the great home atmosphere in Portland and play a full 90 with passion and aggression. No exceptions.
As for the lineup tweaks, let’s face it, it’s hard to tweak your lineup when you really have no real depth at any position. New starters Eddie Johnson at forward and Steve Purdy at right back were non-descript and we actually could have used Kenny Cooper’s size on some of those set pieces in the first half. At this point, Spencer, whom I’m sure would be pulling out his hair if he had any left, should just keep his original starters in and let them play out this slump. Maybe a tactical change (4-3-3 with Nagbe moving up front?) would work better than a lineup change? There is no time to sulk as the streaking archrival Sounders head into town next Sunday for a nationally televised game. No better a time for the Timbers to pull out of their funk and match the passion of their coach, and of their city for a full 90 minutes.