Welcome back, Landon Donovan. Welcome to first place, LA. Welcome back to earth, Portland.
Giving up early goals stymied the Timbers from the start again on Saturday, and the Western-Conference-leading Galaxy (who generally don't need the help) rolled behind two Donovan goals for a 3-0 thumping that got out of hand quickly.
"We probably lost the game in the first 10 minutes," said coach John Spencer in a post-game assessment that only would've been more honest had Spencer tossed the word "probably."
Still, all was not lost for a Timbers team that remains winless on the road: The department of "Could've Been Worse" was called into work a bit early last night, Troy Perkins made his season debut and the premiere of Designated Player Diego Chará definitely happened. More after the jump, including Mr. Chará looking good in green, defensive respect for Darlington Nagbe and EXTRA TIME links to expand your Easter reading beyond Mark and Matthew.
The Timbers gave it up too early in their first MLS date with the Galaxy on Saturday, and that's not the kind of reputation Portland wants to have around the league. ("OMG! So easy!") Riding the momentum of two home wins straight into a smog-covered foothill in Carson, the Timbers looked like the decidedly less-confident version of themselves. You know—the ones in away kits.
Portland has allowed more goals overall (13) than anyone in the league (not a stat you're aching to lead), and early in the match is the worst time for those defensive slips to happen for a team still building cohesion and learning to play together in ideal conditions. Throwing an early deficit into the equation puts the whole club on its heels and out of their comfort zone, and that's never a recipe for success.
Spencer recognizes this all too well, and I love his candor on an issue that never reared its head at home: "I was disappointed that we conceded two goals in quick succession, it’s something that we are going to have to address, obviously," he said. "When you go down a goal, you can’t break down mentality. For the next five, 10 minutes, keep it tight. We’ve done it too many times now."
Spencer's being tough on his guys here, ahem, merely suggesting they "break down mentally" after early goals. How they'll respond to that challenge—and the constant questions this week from media about slow starts—will be telling, much like how the team responded to being dominated much of the game.
The Timbers stayed aggressive, at least, throughout, out-shooting the Galaxy 13-11 overall and nearly netting a few chances in the final 20 minutes. Forwards Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza earned everything they got and never let up, signaling Perlaza may be ready to join Cooper and defensive stalwart Eric Brunner in the "bring-it-every-game" crew.
Another guy who fans would love to see as a member of that so-far-select team-within-a-team, is this guy:
Diego Chará entered in the second half and showed Designated Player-worthy stuff. I can't imagine the adrenaline that had to be pumping through a guy who steps off a plane, meets his new teammates and hours later is making his league debut on the field with David Beckham, Donovan and childhood pal Perlaza. Chará's presence was definitely evident, and he displayed his ability to aptly possess the ball and let things develop around him, a skill that will benefit a team which, at times, has been a step away from making something happen.
Meanwhile, Darlington Nagbe had his best performance and showed even more of his enticing skills, particularly with his speed and passing. But it was the LA defense who showed even more about the Timbers' top SuperDraft pick: Space tends to equal respect, and the amount of room the Galaxy defense afforded the 20-year-old gives you can idea of how dangerous Nagbe's already perceived to be.
Making his season debut, Perkins was as stern, steady and solid as his reputation implied, and he certainly didn't cost the Timbers anything the defense didn't have coming. He may not be as aggressive as third-stringer-turned-breakout-starter Jake Gleeson, but his pre-game scowl is tough to beat.
The team's momentum may be gone, but another ebb is possible should Portland return its home form on Saturday against CONCACAF Champions League finalists Real Salt Lake at the House of Pane. They'll just need to reserve the welcomes for before the game.
EXTRA TIME! Links to make you never want to leave home again.
• Knowles Adkisson of Goal.com pretty much sums it up in his lede: "The momentum acquired by the Portland Timbers in their first two home victories at JELD-WEN Field lasted all of three minutes Saturday." Yup.
• Geoffrey C. Arnold of The O does the math and notes "concerns about the Timbers' ability to come out with the appropriate mental focus to start a game."
• Slide Rule Pass deftly breaks it all down *with diagrams* and concludes "Hey, it was a bad night at the office for Portland."
• Doug Binder of MLSsoccer.com says a "crisp" LA club "carved up" a Portland team that was reminded it still has a long way to go.
• Phil Collin of The Daily Breeze says this one could've gotten even more out of hand had "the Galaxy converted several more chances."
• Grahame L. Jones of the LA Times says "a rout was possible" as Portland lacked confidence.
• Feeling like a stalker? Here are some photos of the Beckham boys taking in the game with TV chef Gordon Ramsay.
• Highlights, though not many for Portland: