Back line still needs work, and home results must improve

by: COURTESY OF MEG WILLIAMS - Midfielder Jorge Villafana gets into a kick in a recent game against Vancouver for the Portland Timbers, who have withstood early-season adversity and put themselves in position for a run at the MLS playoffs.The Portland Timbers have spent much of the first half of the season disappointing fans, coaches and their owner.

And yet, the Timbers are not in that bad of a position to make the MLS playoffs.

Despite all the problems Portland has had and all the draws that probalby should have been wins, the Timbers (4-4-8, 20 points) are in sixth place in the Western Conference, just one point back of the Vancouver Whitecaps. The top five finishers will go to the postseason.

“We’re still right there,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter says. “We’re not out of the race. We’re below the red line, but there’s a lot of games left. I know what this team is capable of. There’s a lot to be optimistic about.”

But, Porter adds, “there are certainly some things that need to change if we want to be in the playoffs and be making a run to raise a trophy. It’s a couple moves and we’re there.”

Porter says he believes the adversity the Timbers have faced over the first 16 matches has made them stronger and gives them the mental fortitude to challenge for a playoff berth throughout the second half of the regular season.

“It’s been a long first half of the year,” Porter says. “This team has grown. They’ve built a lot of resiliency. In the end, it’s going to help us get to where we want to get because we’ve grown, we’ve gotten stronger, we’ve gotten humbled, we’ve gotten hardened and we’re even a little bit more hungry.”

The biggest problem for the Timbers this season has been their inability to keep opponents’ shots out of the back of the net. Portland has given up 27 goals, which is tied for third worst in MLS.

by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND TIMBERS - Caleb Porter, coach of the Portland Timbers, says the club needs to improve its play on the back line in the second half of the MLS season.Porter has used 10 different formations on the back line in 2014, trying to get some consistency out of the group. Nothing has worked.

“It hasn’t been good enough,” Porter says. “Simple. You don’t change your back line, in fact that’s the area of your team you almost never change. I don’t like to change my back line. I like to have continuity. Some of that is due to injuries. But the majority of the time is because that line has not been good enough.”

And, for all the talk of how inspiring the home crowd at Providence Park is, the Timbers have played better on the road this season than they have at home. On the road, Portland is 3-1-1 (10 points). At home, the Timbers are 1-1-7 (10 points).

So, are the Timbers playing a different style or approaching things differently at home than they are on the road?

“Maybe,” Porter says. “Maybe. But what are we going to do? Sit back at home? We’re not going to do that. We’ve got to get better defenders. Simple. That allows us to get forward, that allows us to attack more.”

The Timbers will have a break in MLS action for the World Cup. Portland’s next league match is June 27 at home against Sporting Kansas City. In the meantime, the Timbers will play host to Orlando’s U-23s in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match on June 17.

“It’s a tournament we want to win,” Timbers midfielder Will Johnson says. “Anytime you get a chance to play for a trophy, that speaks for itself.”

During the break, the Timbers players — like much of the world — will pend a lot of time sitting in front of their TVs, watching the World Cup in Brazil.

“I can relax and just watch some soccer,” Johnson says. “I love this game.”

Portland midfielder and Argentinian national Diego Valeri makes no secret about whom he is rooting for.

“I’m so excited,” Valeri says. “I hope that Argentina wins.”

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