It was 2-2, but the Timbers' tie with Toronto on Saturday night was no even draw. And that fact was written all over Portland's face.
Head coach John Spencer walked into the post-match press conference nearly a half-hour after the final whistle—easily the longest wait for the media throng this season. By the time he arrived, the assembled sports scribes, TV guys and PR folk had struck up multiple conversations, and the volume level had steadily risen in the small room under the grandstands of Jeld-Wen Field.
Then Spencer entered (if there was a record player, it'd have screeched) from the door at the rear of the press room. The 5-foot-6 fiery Scot typically has 6-foot-5 presence, but after this one, his look was halted. Perhaps expecting the coach to start spitting fire unprompted after such a disappointing result, nobody said a word.
Silence. Not long, maybe a few seconds. But enough time to notice and enough quiet to fully take in just what our eyes and lenses were fixed on as Spencer stepped up to the mic, adjusted it down as usual and stared forward, almost blankly. For a guy who all season has worn opinions firmly a'sleeve, this was a new emotion, a new reaction to another frustrating loss: Dejection.
I piped up, breaking the silence with a question about the result feeling like less than a tie. "Yeah, um," Spencer said, pausing and letting out a deep breath. For the first time in what's been a roller coaster season for the Timbers, it seemed as if the Portland coach, too, was at a loss for words.
More after the jump, including full video of Spencer's subdued presser, locker room reaction from Mike Chabala, highlights and more thoughts on a tie's lost opportunity.
It'll go down in the books as a 2-2 draw, but nobody in green should kid themselves: The Timbers lost on Saturday.
Portland squandered another lead, gave up a league-leading 10th goal in the final 15 minutes and left two points on the table. The Timbers misplaced any momentum earned from its first road win and a drought-spelling, mid-week friendly, and their playoff hopes heading into a seven-match August now look less probable.
The Reds scored twice in the final 19 minutes and the Timbers again yielded late goals after dominating much of the first half.
Late goals. They've become Portland's biggest nemesis, its Achilles heel and the albatross around the Timbers' collective neck—all rolled onto one pitch.
"You're 2-0 up, and you have 15 minutes to go ... it shouldn't be a problem at all" said recent acquisition Mike Chabala, who played with comfort beyond his tenure during the match and showed leadership of his new team afterward. "We all let this one get away. I think this has been a reoccurring factor for this team, but I think for me, this is the last time this is going to happen.
"There's a lot of points that we've dropped this whole season. Whether you've been a part of it or not, this is all of us, and this result reflects all of us."
Portland played some of its top footy of the season in the first half. A re-vamped lineup featuring Darlington Nagbe and Eddie Johnson up front, Sal Zizzo starting at mid and newcomers Chabala and Lovel Palmer on defense played like they'd been at it together for months.
Diego Chará showed his best form all year, spurring both PTFC goals. The first came in the 23rd minute, when he found a wide-open Johnson for his first MLS goal, and the second came after Chará was taken down from behind in the area to earn Jack Jewsbury's PK score in the 57th. Chará looked more comfortable with more speed around him, and at times, Portland was, as Spencer put it "magnificent": The "schizophrenic" Timbers set season highs with 20 shots and 11 shots on goal after coming out aggressive and controlling the match against a team that hadn't won on the road all season.
But alas, the "meltdown."
Freshly-inked Red Peri Marosevic blasted one past keeper Troy Perkins in the 71st, and the uh-oh-here-we-go-agains began flying like so many white streamers launched by Timbers Army pre-game. Then, 10 minutes later, recently signed Toronto Designated Player Danny Koevermans scored after the Reds all but set up camp in Portland's end.
Long-faced Portland players had every right to be doleful as they walked off the field, and they were. Fans had every right to boo as the match ended, and some did.
“The fact that we let this get away is disappointing," Chabala said. "What is it? Is it fitness? Is it desire? What is the problem in this locker room that we can’t close out a lead at 2-0?"
The Timbers, who host West-leading Los Angeles on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2) don't have much time to hang their heads. Trouble is, with a busy August before them, Portland may have even less time to get things right.
"I told the guys in the locker room that you can only keep papering up the cracks for so long," Spencer said. "Individually and collectively, you have to stand up and be a man. At times, we did stand up, and at times, we weren't there to be seen."