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Minnesota United

All that stood yesterday between the Portland Timbers and their massive Sunday showdown with the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park was the small matter of a midweek trip to Minnesota to play MLS' joint-newest club.

Harmless, right? Not so much.

In just 90 minutes at TCF Bank Stadium on Wednesday night, the Timbers managed to concede three goals, lose two crucial players to suspension, and go down to a damaging defeat against the team with the league's worst record.

No one shattered their Achilles, but catastrophic injury aside, Portland's first ever MLS trip to the Twin Cities could not have gone worse.

The Timbers now face the prospect of heading into the biggest game of their season lugging back-to-back defeats, a five-game road losing streak, and just two wins in their last eleven games across all competitions.

It's a bad scene, and Timbers manager Caleb Porter exited Wednesday night's game in a state of causticity — livid with his team's defending, livid with his limited defensive depth, and livid with consistent individual letdowns that have plagued this team since it tore through March.

Sound like fun?

Porter appears to be at the end of his rope. Over the last two months, no team in the Western Conference has picked up fewer points than his team has. Be it sluggish starts, sluggish finishes, injury or indiscipline, this season is getting away from the Timbers.

This result — along with the one in Colorado four days ago — have given the next four days up to and including the game on Sunday an urgent importance beyond the all-important rivalry with Seattle. The Timbers need to get themselves back on track.

Considering the importance of the coming match, this trip to Minneapolis was a train-wreck. Set aside all the chaos of a truly unhinged evening and you'll find that the Timbers were handily outplayed by an expansion side that had been outscored 8-1 in its last three games.

Minnesota United — the same team that the Timbers ripped open 5-1 on Opening Day — played the better soccer on Wednesday night. The Loons were crisp: more chances, more tackles, more duels won, and, in the end, more focus.

The final was 3-2, but that score flattered the Timbers. They were lucky to be in the game at all.

From the opening whistle, Adrian Heath's was on the front foot — and they'd take the lead after just seven minutes, when, after a lovely bit of interplay around the box, Amobi Okugo bundled a Sam Cronin cross into his own net.

Portland was gifted a lifeline just eight minutes before halftime when Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth bundled over Diego Valeri at the top of the box and conceded a penalty, which the Maestro dispatched with vigor.

The Timbers got to halftime at 1-1, and Porter's response to this fortune was to lift left back Marco Farfan — who he absurdly accused after the game of looking like "a deer in the headlights" for Vytas.

It wasn't quite the move the game required. Just two minute after the restart, Kevin Molino parted the Timbers' backline with a simple through pass, which Christian Ramirez, turning, flicked up to himself, and flicked over Jeff Attinella to give Minnesota the lead back.

But the Timbers had a quick answer — and this time it was a Minnesota player putting the ball into his own net, with captain Francisco Calvo knocking in Vytas' cross to knot the score at two.

Things would only get crazier from there. Abu Danladi put the Loons back on top shortly after Calvo's own goal when Attinella flapped a cross and left his net open, presenting the number one overall pick with an easy finish for his second career goal.

It'd be Danladi's last meaningful contribution. With just over twenty minutes to go, the young Minnesota forward fouled Sebastian Blanco in midfield and went down with him — at which point Blanco kicked out at Danladi's chest, and then was himself kicked in response.

Referee Ted Unkel — ever the dramatist — deemed the foul play serious enough to warrant two red cards. A better official would have issued yellow cards and kept twenty-two players on the field, but nonetheless, coming four days before the Sounders game, it was a moment of supreme stupidity.

And the fun didn't stop there. Roy Miller decided to get in on the fun with just five minutes to go, earning himself a suspension-inducing yellow card by bringing down Ramirez at midfield for no apparent reason. The game would end shortly thereafter, with Wonderwall ringing out from the TCF Bank Stadium speakers.

Blame individual players if you want — that's certainly Porter's inclination — but that blame doesn't tell the whole story.

Time and again, Minnesota sliced through the Timbers' lines with quick interplay and quick movement. Porter's singling out Farfan — who got zero help defensively and held his own anyway — was a joke. Attinella, for the one error, bailed his team out several times.

Yes, the defense is shorthanded. But David Guzman's state looked just short of comatose, and Darlington Nagbe again failed to have any tangible impact. Blanco — the only Timbers player who had a legitimately good game — kicked a rookie for no reason and got a red card. It was that kind of night.

Porter thinks his guys need to play better, which is legitimate. They're professionals. But great coaches have bigger hands in the success of their teams than the hope or expectation that their charges can or will perform better.

This was a poor game from a coach who appears teetering on the edge of self-pity. The criticism of Farfan was bizarre, but it wasn't Porter's only failing. At no point did the coach adjust to stop Minnesota from tearing through the Timbers' midfield — just as he didn't act quickly enough when Colorado began to do the same in the second half of Saturday's game.

Porter has a big job in front of him. He and his players need to dig in and step up. Their season depends on it.