Have Timbers hit bottom?
Humbling. Embarrasing. Choose your word.
That was how Caleb Porter described the way his team performed on Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to Real Salt Lake at Providence Park.
One emotion the Timbers do not have time to indulge is self-pity.
Yes, the lineup Porter was forced to use was a hodgepodge group that clearly lacked comfort even before one player left with an injured ankle and two others were shown justified red cards by referee Baldomero Toledo.
And yes, Real Salt Lake took advantage of that discomfort by pressuring the Timbers' center backs at every chance and dictating play for all but the early moments after halftime.
But with a game Sunday afternoon at Vancouver, the Timbers find themselves precariously close to dropping outside of a top-six playoff spot in a MLS Western Conference. Avoiding that will require poise and precision — two ingredients sorely lacking on Wednesday at Providence Park.
"Losing 4-1 at home really hurts. To see fans leaving after they score goals, that hurts," Zarek Valentin says. "But the best thing that can happen for a team and for a player is to have a quick turnaround. It's good we don't have to wait two weeks for our next game."
Maybe, but the Timbers might be even thinner on Sunday than they were for Wednesday's debacle. And at 7-8-6, Portland is eighth in the West on points per game. Portland is tied with rivals Vancouver and Seattle for fourth place with 27 points, but those teams have played fewer matches.
Portland won't have Fanendo Adi on Sunday because the striker lost his cool reacting to an elbow from Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman, who also was shown a red card for his shot to Adi's ribs in a wild sequence early in the second half.
"It's good to have emotion. But being emotional, retaliating or making a decision you know is risking a red card, that's unacceptable," Porter says.
By the time Adi lost his cool, the Timbers already were down a man because rookie Victor Arboledo elbowed Joao Plata in the face as the two battled along the sideline. Arboleda was in the game because Chance Myers, in his Timbers debut, went down with a possible broken ankle late in the first half.
Porter, Diego Valeri and Valentin each said they have never been in a game with such a short bench — the only field players on the bench at the start were rookies Arboleda, Jeremy Ebobisse, Rennico Clarke and second-year man Jack Barmby. Barmy's 35-yard shot in stoppage time kept the Timbers from being shut out.
"Besides maybe an indoor tournament where you field six players, I've never been on a team where you have to suit up that few of players," Valentin said. "Our team's just had a terrible string of luck, honestly. It's not like our staff off the field isn't doing their jobs. That's what I think needs to be known to the public is, it's not necessarily people not doing their jobs or players not taking care of their bodies."
The Timbers, however, were their own enemy too often on Wednesday.
Nobody stepped up to take space away from Beckerman on his nice 25-yard goal to open the scoring.
The defense was stretched and Jefferson Savarino had plenty of space before Dairon Asprilla stepped on Savarino's foot, resulting in a penalty kick.
Arboleda learned a tough lesson when his elbow went high on the 5-2 Plata.
Then Adi lost his cool, when Beckerman's elbow might have evened the manpower.
"We're dealing with a lot of adversity. But for me, when I look at the game, we brought it on ourselves," Porter said. "I felt like we were prepared. We knew we were managing some things. We knew it wasn't the ideal situation in terms lineup and personnel. But when the whistle blows, we expect to perform well regardless, and we didn't do that."
The Timbers' lineup situation might be more laughable on Sunday in British Columbia. Adi and Arboleda will be suspended. Myers joins a list of players sidelined by injury that now includes Marco Farfan (left ankle injury in training on Sunday). Liam Ridgewell and Amobi Okuko are out. Diego Chara and Vytas were listed as questionable for Wednesday's match, but neither suited up, and their status for Sunday is in doubt.
The Timbers also will be without Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman, whose Gold Cup duties will continue at least through the weekend. Alvas Powell and Darren Mattocks also still might be engaged with the regional tournament if Jamaica beats Canada on Thursday.
"We're dealing a lot," Porter said. "But as men, myself and those players, what a great opportunity for us to show character and respond and pick ourselves back up in a short amount of time and go out on the road and show everyone what happened today, that's not the team we are, that's not who we are as individuals."
The Timbers are winless in their last six games — including their last three at home. They have two wins since they beat the Whitecaps 2-1 on April 22 to improve to 5-2-1.
As Wednesday made painfully clear, they are a shadow of the club that started the season so brightly.