Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
After taking such a thrilling step forward last weekend against Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers took another step back on a dreary, wet Sunday afternoon at Providence Park — falling to DC United by a score of 1-0.

Fittingly enough, given the nature of the match and the conditions in which it was played, it was an own goal that made the difference. Bill Tuiloma's miscue put DC in front midway through the first half, and this week, the Timbers, despite their total control of the game, could not turn it around.

Given the circumstances — the Timbers would have jumped into third place with a win — it's a damaging defeat.

It also means that the Timbers have now lost more games at Providence Park this year than they have in any season since 2012. In fact, they've lost more games at home in just the last month than they did during the entirety of the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

The results have been bad enough. But the performances of late, even in wins, have been deflating in their own right. The Timbers just aren't inventive enough going forward, or clean enough at the back, to consistently succeed against teams who come to Portland, sit players in defensively, and attack in transition.

Between the Timbers' struggles on the field, and the controversy surrounding MLS's fan code of conduct off the field, it's been a draining, unsettling stretch for those in and around this club.

The atmosphere at Providence Park has suffered, despite the Timbers Army's tremendous recent activism. There were empty seats throughout the stadium on Sunday, with a combination of factors — including the ill will that the league has generated with its selectively-enforced ban on "political" signage — taking their toll.

The team, meanwhile, that fit of energy and inspiration at the end of the Kansas City game notwithstanding, hasn't looked right in weeks.

It is of course worth mentioning that the Timbers were again shorthanded on Sunday — missing Sebastian Blanco and Brian Fernandez, and only able to name five substitutes to the bench with Dairon Asprilla frozen out following his petulant exit from last weekend's game.

But it is also worth highlighting that the Timbers knew exactly what kind of challenge they were going to face with DC United coming in.

Having limped their way through July and August, winning just twice in ten games, DC went to Montreal two weekends ago, had 34 percent possession, completed a horrific 67 percent of their passes, got outshot 24-7, and won the game 3-0.

It was a classic, backs-to-the-wall, Ben Olsen road performance, and there was never any chance that the veteran DC manager was going to approach Sunday's match any differently.

DC was going to pack players behind the ball, cede possession, and try to make the game ugly. It was going to be up to the Timbers to be sharp from the opening whistle, diversify their attacking approach, and put DC under pressure.

It didn't happen. When it was all said and done, the final numbers looked very much like the numbers from DC's win in Montreal: the visitors had just 33 percent possession, again completed just 67 percent of their passes, were outshot 23-7, and flew home with all three points.

And while the Timbers hit the woodwork twice, once in each half, they might have lost by multiple goals just as easily as they might have taken a point or three.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
The Timbers did almost get off to the perfect start after just 15 minutes, when a long diagonal from Claude Dielna out of central defense hit Jorge Moreira high on the right wing. The Argentinian fullback bent a cross into the middle of the box that Diego Valeri ran onto, but he flicked his header onto the post.

Ten minutes later, following a long stretch of probing possession from the Timbers, disaster struck.

After an exchange between Junior Moreno and Wayne Rooney on top of the Timbers' box, the ball bounced wide for Ulysses Segura — who drove a low ball across the face of goal that a sliding Bill Tuiloma redirected into the back of the net.

It was a terrific ball from Segura and a difficult position for the retreating Tuiloma, especially given the slick surface, but it was still the kind of mistake that the Timbers could ill-afford to make against a team that wanted nothing more than the chance to defend a lead.

DC nearly extended that lead ten minutes after that, and in similar circumstances: Rooney swung a trademark corner towards the back post, Steve Clark came for it and missed, the ball hit Paul Arriola, then hit Clark in the back of the leg, and appeared to carom over the line before Eyrk Williamson hooked it away.

No goal was given on the field, and no stoppage for a full video review followed. It's anyone's guess as to why. ESPN's goal-line camera clearly and unambiguously showed that the entirety of the ball had crossed the line before Williamson's intervention.

For a manager in Giovani Savarese fined midweek for his criticism of MLS officiating, this was a major break. The Timbers went to the locker room to dry out and regroup at the halftime whistle down a manageable one goal, instead of a likely insurmountable two.

But the difference, in the end, was academic. Facing a packed-in DC team committed to stopping service into zone 14, the Timbers became increasingly cross-happy. After crossing the ball from open play only three times in the first half, they'd fire in 23 crosses from open play in the second.

It was from one of these crosses that they'd come closest to scoring — when Moreira sent a deep, hopeful ball spinning off of the crossbar five minutes after the restart — but without a second forward in the game, the Timbers had neither the presence nor the numbers to make a difference in the box.

It was mostly very easy defending for DC's center backs. Savarese attempted to be proactive, throwing on Tomas Conechny at the hour mark for Williamson, but he wasn't the difference-maker the Timbers needed with two of their top attackers unavailable.

As the Timbers pushed players forward in search of an equalizer, it was DC who had the half's best scoring chance when Rooney slipped in Arriola off of an Andrés Flores turnover — only for Clark to react quickly and turn Arriola's shot on the post and away.

The Timbers didn't get another significant chance. It ended 1-0, with Olsen pumping his fists and Savarese grimacing in the opposite dugout.

It was a thoroughly miserable afternoon. The Timbers play again in just three days, against another Eastern Conference in the New York Red Bulls. They'll be eager to put this performance, and the atmosphere that accompanied it, as far behind them as possible.

Whether they'll be able to may define the remainder of their season.