Timbers feel pressure for first win
Silly as it might seem, Saturday's first home match of the season feels like a must win for the Portland Timbers.
The longer the Timbers go without earning the first win for coach Giovanni Savarese, the more the pressure will build. And, so far, Savarese's team has not responded well when the pressure is on.
The new Timbers' boss seems to know that. After a 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 loss at Orlando City on Sunday, Savarese said: "After five games in a row where we didn't get a win, it becomes more difficult at home, but I think the guys can't wait to be at home."
The Timbers had chances to build a solid foundation for their 2018 season during the five road matches that opened their schedule, a stretch needed because of the expansion project that has turned the east side of Providence Park into a construction zone.
But instead of returning home with real momentum, the Timbers lost leads late in consecutive games and shuffled home with a 0-3-2 record and a meager two points. They are one of only three teams still winless in MLS (Seattle is behind Portland, with three losses in three games and no goals scored).
Yes, referee Baldomero Toledo blew the penalty kick call that gifted Orlando City a tying goal. But the Timbers got themselves into trouble.
On the goal that turned the tide, the Timbers let two Orlando City players run unguarded to the near post on a corner kick, and Chris Mueller made them pay with a flick header.
Seconds later, after the Timbers easily gave up possession off the kickoff, Orlando's Stefano Pinho had a wide-open header. He missed, but the phantom penalty kick was awarded on the play.
On the game-winner, two long passes out of the back sprung Dom Dwyer in behind the Timbers' defense.
Scattershot late-game defending has doomed Portland. Seven of the 12 goals scored against the Timbers (2.4 per game, worst goals-against in the league) have come after the 77th minute.
Will that change at home?
As much as the home environment might help, until the trend changes the Timbers' penchant for coughing up late goals will be on their minds — and is sure to embolden opponents.
This week, the foe is second-year Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. Saturday). The team affectionately known as the Loons are 2-3 — the wins coming over the Chicago and Orlando teams the Timbers should have beaten. Like Portland, Minnesota's worst loss came at Red Bull Arena (3-0).
Looking for silver lining? The Timbers and Savarese are positioned to make some history. No MLS team with a first-year head coach has gone winless through its first five games and made the playoffs.
The Timbers have 17 home games, 12 road games and nearly six months of soccer in front of them. Home teams have won 55 percent of the time so far this MLS season, while road teams have won about a quarter of the time. From here on, Portland likely needs to be better than both of those marks to make the playoffs.
Thorns debut, too
One day after the Timbers' home debut, the Thorns will play their first home game of the season. Alex Morgan and the Orlando Pride visit for a 3 p.m. Sunday match.
At 1-1, Portland is tied with the Washington Spirit for third place in the National Women's Soccer League. Orlando has a draw and a loss.
Morgan, a one-time Portland forward, appears to be in good form. She scored two goals in each of the USA's wins over Mexico last week (4-1 and 6-2).
As will be the case for a few more weeks, the Thorns will have to make do without some key players busy with their national teams.
Christine Sinclair (Canada), Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett (United States) and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic (Switzerland) participated in international friendlies last week and are expected back, though Horan left Sunday's 6-2 win over Mexico with a leg injury shortly after she scored a goal.
Horan and Sonnett started both of the USA wins over Mexico. Sinclair played for Canada on Monday in a 1-0 loss to host France. Crnogorcevic played 90 minutes for Switzerland on April 5 in a 1-0 win over Scotland.
Still busy with qualifying matches for next year's Women's World Cup are Andressinha with Brazil and Hayley Raso and Ellie Carpenter with Australia. Over the weekend, Andrissinha scored a goal in Brazil's 8-0 win over Ecuador, and Raso played 56 minutes for Australia in a scoreless draw with South Korea.
Also back for the Thorns' home opener will be coach Mark Parsons. Initially suspended two games for actions following the Thorns' season-opening loss at North Carolina, Parsons was reinstated by the league after watching his team's March 31, 3-2 win at Chicago from the press box.
Stadium construction update
Because of the ongoing work that by next season will add about 4,000 seats to the east side of Providence Park, access to that side will be different and certain areas are off-limits. The Timbers and Thorns are encouraging fans to arrive a bit early for this weekend's games.
Solid start for T2
While the big club let two wins get away during the challenging five-game road start to this season, the club's second team already is within one win of last season's total of three victories.
After their 3-0 win on Saturday at Oklahoma City, Timbers 2 are 2-2-1 and eighth in the United Soccer League's Western Conference after five road games. A three-match home stretch begins next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Merlo Field with a visit from Rio Grande Valley.
Bright spots from the most recent win included the first professional goals for Foster Langsdorf and for Lamar Batista. Langsdorf, the Timbers' rookie Homegrown Player, delivered a deft finish from near the penalty spot off of a delivery by Augustine Williams. Williams had two assists in the game. Williams and Victor Arboleda lead T2 with two goals apiece.