Portland's comeback kids want to make April their breakthrough month

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Canadian midfielder and MLS veteran Will Johnson, arguing a call with the referee in the season opener against New York, has emerged as one of the Portland Timbers' leading players and scoring threats.Four matches into the season, the Portland Timbers have yet to earn a win.

They can take more positives than negatives into April, though. They have gone on the road and earned two draws, twice they have shown the heart to come back from being down two goals, and they have improved with each match.

Still, going into Saturday’s home match with the Houston Dynamo, the Timbers desperately want to earn their first win of the season. That is especially true for Portland coach Caleb Porter, who has never tasted victory as an MLS coach.

“It’s something that’s talked about a lot, so it increases the attention on it,” Porter says. “There are other coaches in this league who haven’t gotten their first win (of the season), but it’s not as big of an issue because they have wins.”

In April, the Timbers (0-1-3) also will be at home against the San Jose Earthquakes (April 14) and play two away matches, against San Jose (April 21) and Sporting Kansas City (April 27).

Porter says April will be a defining month for the Timbers, but he qualifies the statement by saying that Portland is still learning to play together.

“This is a defining month, but the evolution was never going to happen in just one or two months,” he says. “That’s unrealistic to think that all of a sudden we were going to turn this around and be an MLS Cup-winning team in two months.

“You’re going to see a steady progression, you’re going to see us win games. I’m confident in that.

“So every game is important, every month is important. We’re in the early stages of building this thing. There is an evolution taking shape. You can see it clearly, especially in the mentality. The spirit in this group is unquestionable. The group has bought in.”

That was especially apparent during the Timbers’ last two matches. They went on the road and had to stage comeback performances to earn a 1-1 draw against the Seattle Sounders and a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids.

“We don’t give up,” says Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, who was named MLS player of the week after scoring two second-half goals against the Rapids. “We don’t get to a point where we think we’ve lost the game, no matter what. We play the game to the final whistle. You’ve always got to push and believe. We’ve proven that we’re not a team that’s going to quit.”

In the grand scheme of things, earning draws on the road are good results if Portland wants to stage a run at making the playoffs. However, those draws need to be balanced out with wins at home, and the Timbers are 0-1-1 at Jeld-Wen Field.

“Draws are acceptable if you win your home games,” Johnson says. “So, with our slow start at home, the draws are not as satisfying as they would be. The goal is usually to win all your home games and at least get a result on the road. If you do that, you’re going to be successful. But we’ve got to play a little bit of catch-up because we started off with two (home) games that weren’t wins.”

Says Porter: “We want to go on the road and get three points, but the fact is that we went on the road in two difficult places to play — Seattle and Colorado — and we got a point in each game. We’re very upbeat. We feel good about the fact that we went on the road and we’re unbeaten and now we’re at home for two games.”

Porter says that the Timbers are on the verge of earning three points in a match and gaining some momentum.

“We need a breakthrough,” he says. “I’m new, these guys are new, and we’re all competitors. We want to win and we haven’t won, so it creates a bit of a frustration.

“It’s getting that first win, and this whole thing will start to snowball. These guys know that we’re on the cusp of a breakthrough. They’re not happy, but they’re very upbeat and they’re encouraged. It’s going to come. We feel really good about the opportunity to come back home and get our first win in front of our fans.”

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