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The last time Sporting Kansas City played the Portland Timbers, Matt Besler chipped a spot-kick into the Timbers Army, Kevin Ellis sent his potential game-winning penalty off the left post, and Saad Abdul-Salaam sent his off the left post, off the right post, and into Timbers lore.

That shootout ended when Sporting's goalkeeper Jon Kempin had his penalty saved by Adam Kwarasey. The only reason that Kempin was in the game, though, was because Kansas City's starting goalkeeper Tim Melia came off injured just before the end of normal time.

All that is only to say this: It takes luck. No matter how good your team is — and the 2015 Timbers were MLS' best team by a yard and a half — it takes luck.

The Timbers and Sporting KC met for the first time since that unforgettable Wild Card game last October on Sunday afternoon at Children's Mercy Park, and predictably enough, after another knock-down-drag-out slugfest between these two evenly matched sides, luck had plenty to do with the final result.

Jack McInerney sent a golden 90th minute chance off the crossbar, and that miss, along with several more of its kind, ensured that the Timbers wasted another goalkeeping clinic from Jake Gleeson in a deeply frustrating 1-0 defeat.

That's not to say that Sporting wasn't worth its victory. If not for Gleeson's heroics, they very well might have had a multi-goal decision. But this was a game that the Timbers, despite fielding a how-did-we-get-here backline, were in right from the word go.

Benny Feilhaber had an early effort that hit the same crossbar that McInerney would find later on, but other than that, Kansas City were outplayed in the first half. It was after the break that Peter Vermes' team turned up the heat.

Just four minutes after the interval, Jacob Peterson turned in a Feilhaber free-kick to give Sporting the lead. For the next ten minutes, Portland teetered on the brink of collapse — with Gleeson coming to the rescue in increasingly awing fashion.

At times, this was little more than a street fight. Fanendo Adi and Ike Opara locked horns throughout, with Opara exiting the game in stoppage time with a jersey full of blood. Diego Chara and Roger Espinoza were both excellent, and both got their money's worth on several tackles, with the over-caffeinated Sporting fullback Jimmy Medranda was lucky not to see red down the stretch.

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Sporting, even down Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, with Dom Dwyer's future up in the air, was tough as nails. They haven't conceded a goal to the Timbers in five straight regular season games, a streak that stretches back to April 2013.

Given how tough Kansas City always plays Portland then, there was plenty to like about the Timbers' performance. Okugo, save for one bad moment, had a very nice game in central defense. Vytas, after coming on for a hobbled Zarek Valentin, was impressive in his debut.

The Timbers created enough chances. But they didn't put them away, and were punished. If Portland's offense suddenly goes missing — and the Timbers have now scored just five goals in their last six games — it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs.

Adi had another tough outing, and walking a fine line after picking up a yellow card, and he wasn't himself in front of goal. Lucas Melano, after cresting against the Seattle Sounders, was quiet for a second straight game.

There is a long, long way to go this season. Portland can, for all intents and purposes, erase the damage done on Sunday with a win next weekend when Kansas City makes the return trip to Providence Park for a game that should be just as intense as this one was. But this doesn't feel like the Timbers' year.

It's been a tough seven days for the champions. Nat Borchers ruptured his Achilles, Norberto Paparatto arrived in Dallas, and the Timbers lost two crucial games that they easily could have taken points from.

Porter was, as is his custom, quick to point out how well his team played on both occasions. But that might be just the point. The Timbers, as long as Porter is the coach, are always going to be competitive. They'll play well more often than they don't. But winning takes something extra.

A player like Jacob Peterson, who scored Sporting's winner on Sunday, can be the difference. Peterson is to SKC what Rodney Wallace was to Portland — reliable, tough, and smart. The jury is still out on whether the Timbers have enough Rodney Wallace in them this year. What we can say with certainly, though, is that sustaining success at a championship level in MLS is incredibly difficult.

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You lose players. You suffer injuries. Mostly, though, you don't get the bounces.

Baseball's San Francisco Giants only win titles in even years. They were champions in 2010, 2012, and 2014. They missed the playoffs entirely in 2011, 2013, and 2015. This year? They're leading the National League West by two games at the trade deadline.

And that's a great team. The Timbers, sitting in seventh place without a road win 23 games into their title defense, might be able to relate.