On Soccer/By Paul Danzer/Portland Tribune/Patience needed as Timbers seek firm footing at home

Kicking around observations from the local soccer world …

• The Portland Timbers seem to still be looking for their footing on their home turf.

On the positive side, Saturday's 2-2 draw with Colorado was a gutty effort given that the Timbers played most of the second half down a man at the end of a big travel week.

Wins at two very tough stadiums (New York City FC on July 7 and Los Angeles FC on July 10) and a challenging home draw with the Rapids made for a successful week.

After games this week against Orlando City (7 p.m. Thursday) and at Seattle (6:30 p.m. Sunday), the Timbers will play 12 of their last 14 at home. That should produce a strong stretch of results.

Portland hasn't fully adapted to the new surface at Providence Park, however. And the Timbers must find ways through opponents who — like Colorado on Saturday — are committed on keeping numbers between the playmakers and the goal.

Patience is needed, according to Timbers midfield star Diego Valeri.

"We have to be more patient in trying to find the right moment to have that clear chance and be more efficient against teams that come and sit (back)," Valeri said.

That patience also requires maintaining the discipline to prevent counterattacks against.

One example came late in the first half against Colorado. Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse tried to work a quick combination near the top of the 18-yard box, but there was no space and Colorado won the ball to start the counterattack that led to Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark making three fantastic saves in a matter of seconds.

Defender Zarek Valentin had joined the attack and was hoping for a pass into space on the left wing when Portland lost possession. Despite a full-field sprint, Valentin could not cut off a cross that Andre Shinyashiki was certain to convert if not for a diving reaction from Clark.

In a matter of seconds, Clark lunged to deny Shinyashiki, then twice robbed former teammate Kei Kamara with quick reactions. After the second of those saves, Kamara fell to his knees with his hands upraised in a show of disbelief.

Clark, naturally, downplayed the sequence, saying he prepares for that type of play.

"You're just reading the play and reacting," he said. "I was seeing the ball well. I don't think this was an abnormal performance, I just think my consistent game."

Valentin said his money is on Clark stopping anything he sees these days. Unfortunately for the Timbers, Clark was screened and didn't see the shot from Colorado's Sam Nicholson that tied the score.

• Valentin was supposed to have a night off on Saturday until Marco Farfan's left-knee injury forced a 10th-minute substitution, with little time to warm up.

"It's the toughest thing to do, in my opinion. As a defender, you're under it. As an attacker, you can kind of build your way into it, poke the ball into space," Valentin said. "As a defender, guys are targeting you and coming at you."

Valentin is appreciated in Portland for his versatility, commitment, vocal leadership on the field and community involvement off of it. But might his contribution be underappreciated?

Steve Clark thinks so.

"You look at what Zarek did on Wednesday against (LAFC star Carlos) Vela and how he steps tonight after an injury to Marco — he's just been an amazing player," Clark said. "I don't think he gets the credit he deserves."

Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said he appreciates Valentin's versatility and that his contribution has been "very important."

Valentin said he felt right at home playing center back after Julio Cascante's red card 10 minutes into the second half. Valentin played central defender growing up and for former Timbers coach Caleb Porter at Akron University. 

• A challenging stretch of five games in 15 days ends Sunday at Seattle. But first there is the Thursday visit by Orlando City.

And, after the return of former Portland Pilots star Conor Casey as interim Colorado coach, Thursday might be another chance for the University of Portland men's soccer program to celebrate.

Benji Michel, who played for the Pilots the past three seasons, scored his second professional goal and first MLS goal on Saturday to give the Lions a 1-0 win over Columbus.

His first goal as a pro was the June 19 winner in overtime for Orlando over New England in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup round-of-16 match.

Current members of UP coach Nick Carlin-Voigt's program will be at Providence Park for Thursday's game. As much as Carlin-Voigt would have enjoyed Michel sticking around for his senior year, the player's success is another sign the Pilots program is on the rise.

With Dom Dwyer (red card) suspended and a midweek cross-country trip before a Sunday home match against the New York Red Bulls, Michel could have an opportunity for his eighth MLS game and fourth start come Thursday.

• Portland's 1-0 win last Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup was among the team's more impressive performances. Both the Timbers and LAFC played strong lineups. Despite a cross-country trip following a big win at New York City FC, the Timbers limited the top scoring team in MLS to one shot on goal and became the first opponent this season to leave Banc of California Stadium a winner.

Jeremy Ebobisse's late goal, a well-played finish off a fortunate bounce, sent Portland to the Open Cup semifinals for the second time.

But the Timbers' luck shifted a day later when sites for the tournament semifinal and final round were determined. Portland will play at Minnesota United on Aug. 7. If the Timbers win, they will travel to either Atlanta United (a rematch of the MLS Cup final last December) or Orlando City in late August to play for the U.S. Soccer Federation national championship and a spot in the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League.

The Timbers will play at Minnesota on Aug. 4 in MLS play and three days later in the Open Cup semis. That simplifies travel, but knowing his team must win two more road games to claim the Open Cup title could make for some interesting lineup choices for Savarese depending on how desperate Portland is for MLS points three weeks from now.

Then again, the way the Timbers have played on the road of late, perhaps the draw did them a favor. 

While the draw didn't go Portland's way — the Timbers have a history of such luck when it comes to the Open Cup — this system is an improvement from when teams were allowed to bid for the opportunity to play at home. 

• Savarese was moved by the love he felt from Timbers fans and his players on Saturday, the day his father died in Italy. Savarese had visited his father midweek and missed the Open Cup match in Los Angeles.

The entire team ran to Savarese after Portland took a 1-0 lead on Colorado. After the match, the Timbers Army presented the coach with white roses.

"The fans, I cannot say more. I thank them for everything they're given me. How they were supporting me. It was incredible," Savarese said. "Thank you to the Timbers Army. Thank you to the organization — to everyone involved with making sure that this night felt special."

• The Portland Thorns enjoyed a special finish on Sunday, with Tyler Lussi's final-seconds header producing a 4-3 win in a match that was a treat for fans and ESPNews and a coach's nightmare given sketchy defending from both clubs.

Give the Thorns credit for pressuring the Orlando Pride into several big defensive mistakes. And give both teams credit for resiliency.

The Thorns made errors that a six-time world Player of the Year will exploit. Marta did that by scoring one goal and contributing to the other two. Marta went straight back to playing for Orlando after Brazil was knocked from the Women's World Cup. She has four goals in three games since returning.

For Portland, Hayley Raso seems over any World Cup hangover. The Australian forward was trouble for Orlando the entire first half and probably should have had more than one goal.

The four Thorns who helped the U.S. win the World Cup in France are expected to return to training with Portland this week, which means the process of reintroducing players and tactics will continue for coach Mark Parsons.

"With all of these players coming in, we're going to have to ask for patience from everyone," he said. 

• Set pieces have been a strength for the Thorns under Parsons, with assistant coach Rich Gunney taking the lead on that facet.

It's one area where the return of Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett and Tobin Heath figures to have a big impact.

On Sunday, it was a set piece that prevented what would have been a disappointing home draw. Lussi shrugged off her mark and drove a clean header into the back netting. It was the second dramatic goal off the bench in the last three games for Lussi, who netted the tying goal in a comeback win at Houston on June 29.

"Credit to her," Parsons said. "I told the team after the game: 'Train how you want to play.' And Tyler is a perfect example of that. She's been incredibly patient, with the talent we have and the (limited) opportunities she gets."

Parsons said he was "grateful that she was in the box when we swung it in there because she hasn't missed a shot for two, three weeks."

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