The Timbers aren't exactly running their best confidence game these days.
Contenders in its second Major League Soccer season? So far, Portland's not fooling anyone.
What's set the Timbers' fledgling grift adrift hasn't been lack of talent—owner Merritt Paulson has said as much—and though poor refs, pitches, health and luck have left their mark, Portland's problems inevitably boil to down to belief ... in themselves.
"It's a confidence issue," said Spencer earlier this week. "Losing becomes a habit, as winning does."
What the Timbers need, therefore, is a break.
Not just a lucky bounce here or a helpful call there, but a complete severance from those tendencies that have only sullied Portland's reputation. And how about some new habits? Like maybe putting Darlington Nagbe in a better position to create offense. Or getting the ball to Kris Boyd's feet. Or keeping their wits about them on defense from first kick to final whistle. Or standing up for each other when things get chippy.
Tonight's opponent, Columbus, has struggled just as much as Portland this season (both teams sit in ninth place with seven points in their respective conference), and though the Crew are winless in their last four, midfielder Milovan Mirosevic called the team's last match the best of their season. Can Portland bamboozle Columbus and get back to its hustling ways at home?
UPDATE: Turns out, the answer to that question is ... "sort of." The Timbers showed some fire and had their chances, but Columbus' defense was able to hold off a rejuvenated Portland attack during a scoreless draw in front of a sellout crowd at Jeld-Wen Field. The Timbers' confidence may not be fully back, but as Spencer put it post game, "it's a positive step."
Click past the jump for a deftly descriptive match log, along with final thoughts and *FULL VIDEO* of Spencer's post-match press conference.
PREGAME: The stadium's playlist has featured plenty of Beastie Boys tonight. Whatcha expect?
Columbus—Andy Gruenebaum in goal. Sebastian Miranda, Eric Gehrig, Josh Williams and Nemanja Vukovic on defense. Eddie Gaven, Danny O'Rourke, Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and Milovan Mirosevic at midfield. Emilio Renteria up front. O'Rourke is the captain and the Crew are wearing their obnoxious bright yellow kits.
Portland—Troy Perkins in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Hanyer Mosquera, Futty Danso and Mike Chabala on defense. Franck Songo'o, Lovel Palmer, Diego Chará, Rodney Wallace and midfield. Darlington Nagbe and Kris Boyd up front. Well, that's certainly a different look. Jewsbury is the Cap'n and the Timbers are wearing their Rose City red kits.
A sign hanging from the main capo stand behind the North end goal reads: "No pressure. Have fun. We're not even here." Well played, TA.
Big ovations for Perkins (who's sporting a mask), Futty (who's making his season debut) and Songo'o (who's probably due for 90 minutes of duty tonight). Futty acknowledges the fans as he sprints out of the pregame huddle.
And away we go ... No Chad Marshall in the starting lineup for Columbus (he's in the 18). Whether a new-look Portland lineup can take advantage of the Crew defense will be key in the early going.
1st minute—Timbers control early and test Gruenebaum right away with a Nagbe cross up front. On the other end, Renteria is fouled 40 yards out and it's the first free kick.
2nd—Free kick cleared with a Futty header. A bad Crew pass gives Portland a 3-on-2 break, but Wallace's pass is just a bit too long for Chará. Portland showing some good energy out of the gate.
4th—Songo'o taken down and it's a free kick for Portland. Defended well, but Portland keeps it in Columbus' end and earns a throw.
6th—Songo'o earns another free kick, but his quick service leaves a bit to be desired. Columbus defends easily.
7th—Futty goes down in front on the Army after a nice touch with pressure coming. He rolls around a bit, but he's back on his no-longer-broken foot.
9th—Things settling in a bit, but Portland is playing with that missing bit of energy in the early moments. In terms of the lineup changes, it's so far, so good for Spencer.
11th—A bad O'Rourke pass gives Nagbe a little room to run, but Columbus recovers to defend. On the counter, Perkins is forced to leap and grab one in the box after a popped-up clearance attempt.
12th—Nagbe with a bit of space in the box, but Gehrig is all over him. Darlington goes down and pleads for a call, but the ref isn't hearing it.
13th—Portland really pressuring the Crew, but just can't make that last pass. Nagbe with some creative footwork at midfield and it leads to Boyd getting into the box, but he gets tangled up with a defender. Columbus clears.
14th—Renteria attempts a cross, but Futty is there to slide and knock it away. TA lets out a roar. That had to feel good for Futty, who's looking very active (read: not so rusty) starting in place of former Columbus (and Ohio State) defender Eric Brunner.
16th—Long ball played for Nagbe to the southeast corner, but Gehrig does well to shield Darlington away from it.
17th—Nagbe again with a nice look to Chará, but Columbus is again able to keep their shape and clear. Long countering pass leads to a footrace between Futty and Renteria, but Perkins beats them both to the ball and boots it out.
19th—Futty with another nice individual defensive play. Crew play it back and it leads to a long shot/cross for Gaven, but it's no problem for Perkins.
20th—Wallace fires one from 25 yards out, but it's just wide of the goal. Gruenebaum gets a piece of it, and it'll be Portland's first corner of the night. It's sent in and leads to a Mosquera bicycle attempt, but he whiffs.
21st—In the other end, a foul just outside the box will give Columbus a dangerous free kick.
22nd—Mirosevic sends it right into the wall, and Palmer heads it away. Timbers dodge their first bullet.
24th—Nagbe with a smooth run wide and passes off to Wallace. He crosses, but Gehrig is there to clear it away. A nice chance there, as Nagbe continues to get the space he needs to create.
26th—Wallace called for a foul near midfield as he levels a Crewman. Portland showing a physical side? Yeah, it's happening.
27th—Vukovic swings one in and the Crew get a touch on it, but Jewsbury saves a goal by heading it over the crossbar. That was Columbus' best look of the night, and they'll get a corner.
28th—Corner goes far post and leads to a point-blank shot on goal, but Chará is there to make a save on the line. Two goals saved by position players in as many minutes! Timbers are dodging bullets like Neo. Columbus controlling the action.
30th—Timbers get a throw in Columbus' end, but the Crew defense continues to hold the line. The ninth place teams in the Eastern and Western Conference look pretty evenly matched at this point.
32nd—Crew really slowing things down and trying to dictate the pace. They've had the lion's share of the possession the past couple of minutes.
35th—Timbers finally get some possession, and Nagbe again with a bit of room. He tries to play it ahead, but the Crew knock it away.
37th—Songo'o plays one forward for Nagbe, and he's eventually knocked down by Vukovic while running away from the corner. It'll be a 25-yard free kick in a dangerous spot for Portland.
38th—Wallace curls it in and Gruenebaum punches it away with two hands (like his mama taught him). Chabala draws a foul in the Southeast corner, and it'll be another close-in free kick for the Timbers.
39th—Songo'o sends it in and Palmer would've chested it in had Gruenebaum not stretched for a huge one-handed tip save. Another corner for Portland.
40th—Songo'o from the other corner and Boyd gets a head on it, but not enough to get to Gruenebaum. Jewsbury goes down in the box, but no call. Boyd doesn't like it and throws his arms up.
41st—Songo'o with a beautiful move to get into the box. It's knocked away briefly and Palmer fires a shot that's deflected and grabbed by Gruenebaum. Portland feeling the momentum shift their way a bit as the first half winds down.
44th—Nagbe earns a throw deep in Columbus' end. It leads to a Wallace cross and Nagbe goes up for the header, but the Crew knock it over the goal line. Portland corner coming.
45th—Songo'o sends it in near post and it's immediately headed out. Chará collects and gets it back to Songo'o, but Miranda with a nice defensive play to take it away. No extra time signaled.
HALFTIME: We're scoreless. The match started with a frantic pace and settled in midway through the first half as Portland shows some pep in their step. The Timbers are throwing jabs, but the Crew have shaken them off thus far. Still, the best chances of the night belong to Columbus, who nearly score twice inside Portland's six-yard box, only to be thwarted by heads-up plays from Jewsbury and Chará. Some stats: Four shots on goal for Columbus, three for Portland. The Crew win the possession battle and duels by the same margin (54-46%) and each team has picked up seven fouls.
And we're back at it ... Portland back playing toward its Army. Can the fans inspire three points?
46th—Nagbe fires a laser, but he misses left. Message, sent.
48th—Songo'o takes the free kick (after the ref prevents a quick restart) and it's headed out and over the goal line. Corner kick, Portland. Songo'o sends it high into Boyd, but it's knocked away. Portland gets it back into the box and Futty has a header, but it's right at Gruenebaum.
49th—Timbers dominating the early going. Songo'o dances into the box and crosses, but nobody's home. Nagbe can't get to it and Columbus holds off Portland.
50th—Palmer called for a foul and earns a yellow card. A bit of a scrum at midfield, and Palmer shoves Williams right in front of the ref. Palmer is trying to show the ref his abs for some reason. Timbers are fired up, a welcome sign for the fans.
51st—Timbers on the attack. Chará with a nice pass down the left to Wallace, who passes on the one-timer and fires between a defender's legs. It's right at Gruenebaum, who's being tested by Portland in the opening minutes of this half.
53rd—Boyd with a left-footed shot and it's no problem for Gruenebaum. Still, Portland with a tremendous amount of energy to start this half. They're looking ... dare I say ... dangerous?
54th—Nagbe takes it into the box, makes a move and fires. It's deflected out and it'll be a corner. Songo'o bends it in and it's over everyone. Columbus can't quite clear and it'll be a throw for Portland deep in the Crew's end.
56th—Mosquera picks Renteria's pocket and it leads to a Nagbe run up the middle. Nagbe is taken down from behind right at the top of the arch. It'll be a free kick. Timbers try a quick restart and score, but the ref had stopped play to spray some foam down and give Miranda a yellow card.
58th—Crew have 10 guys in their wall and there's lots of pushing. Boyd takes the free kick and just misses high and right. Columbus now the side dodging bullets.
59th—And just when I say that, Renteria pops up a header and Perkins has to jump up and punch it out.
60th—On the other end Wallace fires one from the left side and it's just to the right of a diving Gruenebaum. Opportunities aplenty here for Portland so far.
61st—On the counter, Finlay crosses for Renteria, but Perkins gets there just in time to grab it out of the air.
62nd—Timbers caught pressing a bit too much and Columbus counters with a nice run with numbers. Timbers are fortunate as O'Rourke's cross is behind Renteria and Mosquera clears.
64th—Chabala with a beautiful pass to Nagbe in the box. He finds Boyd, who fires from a tight angle and finds only Gruenebaum. An absolutely torrid pace for Portland.
66th—Columbus earns a corner as Vukovic fires a shot that's deflected out. They play it short and send it in high for Williams, and Perkins makes a leaping save to knock it over the crossbar. Huge play there for the masked keeper.
67th—Corner sent in and headed away by Futty, but it goes right to Finlay. He fires and it's just high. Two great chances for Columbus.
68th—Boyd nearly heads one in on a long ball from Songo'o. Great effort for Boyd just to get to it.
69th—Boyd flicks ahead a header on the ensuing free kick for Wallace, and it's a beautiful turn-and-shoot from Rodney. It just misses right and Nagbe gives chase, but Columbus gets it out of danger.
71st—Free kick from 40 yards out for Mirosevic and Perkins rises to grab it.
72nd—Crew with a throw from the southwest corner and it ping-pongs around the box before Jewsbury sends it out. Columbus gets it back in, and again Jewsbury with a header to clear from danger. Cap'n Jack looking pretty comfortable on the back line.
75th—Songo'o is shown a yellow card after a hard tackle. In an unrelated development, Eric Alexander enters for Songo'o after not playing last week at Montreal.
76th—Nagbe with a nice run, and O'Rourke fouls him just outside the box. A free kick is coming, and it's from a dangerous spot.
77th—Wasted chance there. Jewsbury taps it to the center of field for Palmer, and his pass to Alexander is immediately knocked away. On the ensuing counter, Chará fouls Mirosevic from behind, and it'll be a yellow card for Diego. Free kick coming from 35 yards out.
78th—Vukovic lofts one softly into the box and Alexander clears.
79th—For Columbus, Justin Meram enters for Finlay. Bernardo Anor is on for Renteria. Fresh legs on the attack for the crew.
80th—Chabala sends in a cross, but Gruenebaum is there to grab it. No worries there.
81st—Wallace is fouled near midfield by a pair of Crew. Mike Fucito enters for Wallace. The former Sounder makes his Portland debut to a round of applause.
82nd—Jewsbury sends in the free kick and Boyd with a great header low to the far post. Gruenebaum dives to grab it.
83nd—Nagbe with a run up the middle and fires a low, skidding shot, but Gruenebaum is there to pull it in. Timbers determined not to give one up in the late going here, and it shows.
84th—For Columbus, Shaun Francis enters for Vukovic. Crew play a cross into the box and Meram nearly gets a foot on it, but Perkins is there to collect it.
86th—Jewsbury goes in hard for a tackle and he comes up limping badly.
87th—Alexander calling for it in the box, but Nagbe drifts away from him and plays it to Chabala. He takes a cross, but it's easy pickings for the Crew defense.
88th—Boyd with some dribbling at midfield and passes to Fucito, but he doesn't realize he was the target. New-teammate miscommunication there.
89th—Timbers biding their time on the backline and Columbus gets a steal near midfield.
90th—Chabala misses a clearance, but Futty has his back. Columbus slowly bringing it down and the Crew will have a throw deep in Portland's end.
Three minutes of stoppage ... The throw comes in and it's headed right to Perkins ... Chará with a steal and one-two with Nagbe. He has Fucito streaking down the west sideline, but his pass is behind his new teammate. On the counter, Meram takes it deep into Portland's and crosses, but Perkins cuts it off ... Timbers mounting one last attack. Jewsbury sends it long into Chabala, and it's headed over the goal line by the Crew. It'll be a corner kick for Portland. Jewsbury sends it in and Boyd gets a head on it, but it's wide right.
FULL TIME: It's a scoreless draw. A spirited second half for the Timbers, who had plenty of chances to steal this one and appeared due to score at times. But Columbus' defense held firm and each team leaves tonight with a point. After a listless road performance at Montreal, the Timbers played with confidence and energy tonight, and if they're to turn things around this season, a passionate performance like this could be the first step. Final stats: Portland out-shot Columbus 15-8, including 12 shots in the second half. They had six on goal (the Crew had three) and evened up the duel battle 48-48. Columbus still won possession 54% to 46%, and the Crew had 14 fouls to the Timbers' 13.
Back from the locker room, and spirits are elevated after a performance that was equal parts encouraging and discouraging. The Timbers had their chances, and though they never took full advantage, flashes of dangerous play are, at the very least, beginning to creep into play.
"Going into the week, there were a lot of questions about not creating enough chances," said Cap'n Jack Jewsbury, who shifted to right back and played defense for the first time in years. "Tonight the chances were created, now it's just a matter of finishing them."
Boyd, whose post-match demeanor was subdued as ever, agreed.
"There were a couple chances and we missed 'em," he said. "We're obviously disappointed in that, but it's a positive they're being created."
Indeed, Portland peppered Columbus with 12 shots in the second half, including three in the final 10 minutes. The Timbers defense, meanwhile, held firm, and didn't allow a Crew shot past the 66th minute.
"I think our intensity and passion tonight was really there," said keeper Troy Perkins, who picked up the clean sheet through a clear, plastic mask and admitted his stitched-up nose still hurt. "The guys put it all out there."
That kind of effort will certainly be required if the Timbers hope to put the lackluster bit of losing in their rear-view. Making his return after breaking his foot in March, Futty Danso said the whole team showed more desire and hunger, and Spencer went as far as to say his team's passion rivaled the crowd's.
"We played more like ourselves tonight," Spencer said. "The tempo was high and matched the energy in the stadium."
Many fans would say "it's about time," and they're right—for Portland, getting as much time between themselves and those confidence-shaking losses will be key if the Timbers want to fancy themselves a contender this season. They're not there yet, but for this night at least, there's something to build on.
"Believe me, when we come in here after a few losses, it's harder on us than anyone else," Jewsbury said. "I think this group has struck together because we have a belief in one another. I thought tonight was a step in the right direction."
Spencer's full post-match presser: