BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- At some point in the 2013 season, draws went from positive results to negative ones for the Portland Timbers.
At least that was vibe given off by the club’s players in the locker room after Portland drew their 11th match in 22 games Saturday.
“It’s unacceptable, really. You have to go and try and win games,” captain Will Johnson said.
The Timbers are currently on pace for 17 ties, which would be a MLS record. While draws at the beginning of the season were looked at as building blocks, Saturday night’s tie was simply not good enough for a team in thick of a eight-team fight for five playoff spots.
“I think all those draws are from the lack of making a play,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to push for the win. If you have too many draws, and we have too many draws, we’re not going to get to the playoffs.”
While the Timbers are tied for second in the current conference standings at 35 points with the Colorado Rapids, their lack of wins might come back to bite them. According to MLS playoff tiebreaking procedures, wins the first stat looked atto break a tie. That does not bode well for Portland, as their eight wins currently put them behind five of their conference rivals.
“It’s too many ties. A lot of those ties should be wins,” Michael Harrington said. “We’re still sitting in a good spot but we’re a bit frustrated because we feel like we could be either farther up.”
OPPONENTS GAME PLANS ARE BECOMING FAMILIAR
With the Timbers trying to use possession and a high defensive line to wear out the opposition, Portland has started to find out that opponents are employing more defensive tactics to break up any chance of a fluid display for Porter and his team.
“What we’re seeing is that teams aren’t trying to out-football us or out-play us, but they are hoping to disrupt the rhythm of the game by playing direct, the ball’s in the air a lot, the ball’s bouncing around,” Porter said. “Obviously, trying to not let us get in a rhythm.”
When teams deploy their defensive tactics, the game hinges on Portland’s ability to not allow goals from set pieces. That is something that the Timbers have struggled with recently. In fact, the club has only conceded one run-of-play goal in their last eight games.
“Teams are going to try and counter us. And they are going to look to score in those set-piece moments,” Harrington said.
“It’s not a concern, it’s just something that we need to focus on and learn from tonight. It’s not like we don’t have the guys to match up in the box. We got big guys, strong guys, guys that are good in the air.”
NEXT UP- US OPEN CUP
Next up for the Timbers is a US Open Cup semifinal matchup with Real Salt Lake Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium. With a victory, the Timbers will advance to their first cup final since the NASL version of the club made the Soccer Bowl in their inaugural season of 1975.
A win would also bring the final to Jeld-Wen Field and give the club the chance at qualifying for the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League.
“We have a big game on Wednesday. It’s an opportunity, if we win, to come back here and play for a trophy. And this group will be up for it, I’ll tell you that,” Porter said.
Despite the midweek game, Porter is not worried about the quick turnaround.
“We’ll pick our lineup and game plan not based on how they are physically because these guys are fine, they’re fit,” Porter said. “These guys will be fine by Wednesday. It’s not like we have to manage these guys physically with just two games in a short window.”
The matchup will be the first of three against RSL in the month of August. RSL travels to Portland on August 21, while the teams will match up at Rio Tinto nine days later.