The Portland Timbers may not have found a win at home in the first leg of the Western Conference Final against Sporting Kansas City, but they can still be satisfied with the scoreless draw they did come out with.
The Timbers had their chances to go in front on Sunday night, and the fact they didn’t take advantage of any of them could come back to bite later in the week. Jorge Villafana smacked the goal post with a volley that made head coach Giovanni Savarese leap from his chair early in the first half. David Guzman headed home a free kick late in the game, but an offside flag got in the way. There were a few other half-chances along the way, but nothing materialized for a Portland team that controlled possession throughout the night and put a half-dozen shots on target.
On the plus side, the Portland defense had one of the better games of the year. They rarely allowed SKC into any threatening positions and, when they did, they did a fantastic job of stepping in and blocking shots. Of the nine Kansas City shots, four were blocked and only one made it on target for a rather easy save from Jeff Attinella.
“We created chances, one that I jumped when it hit the post,” Savarese said in his post-match press conference. “I thought it was in. Today it didn’t want to go in, but we did a fantastic job defensively. Definitely we wanted to get a win at home, but also [Sporting Kansas City] didn’t get any goals. So now we have to go there, make sure we’re prepared in the days that we have and give everything we have to try and go through.”
Overall, Savarese got what he expected from both sides on Sunday. SKC came out with a defense first mindset and Portland took advantage of that. Their consistent possession created chances, but the quality of shots didn’t exactly match up. When they did get a solid shot on frame, Tim Melia made sure he got in the way, which was rather frustrating for the team.
“I thought the first half especially, the second half was very good, but the first half we forced them where we wanted them to play,” Savaresse said. “We were able to pressure them quick, we created a lot of problems, we created good chances, but in some moments maybe we needed an extra player coming inside the box. In some moments maybe the cross could have come in lower rather than high. So just little things that could have been a little better that we’ll look at and then we’ll plan accordingly for Thursday, which we expect another very difficult game.”
“It’s always frustrating when you know that it’s a post or one more ball that you need to connect, but that’s football for you sometimes,” defender Liam Ridgewell said after the match. “I think they sat behind a little bit, as they did when they played RSL when they played at home.”
Speaking of how SKC played in that away leg last round, the Timbers will need to prepare for a vastly different affair in Thursday’s second leg. Odds are good they will probably come out with guns blazing on their home field, especially considering how their conference semifinal series against Real Salt Lake played out. After a fairly defensive draw in the first leg, they hung four goals on the board in the second, including two in the first 20 minutes of the match.
Savarese won’t have to change much in terms of his team’s overall plan, but he will need to account for the likely change in mentality. Thankfully, his defense showed they were capable of making big plays when they needed to in Sunday’s first leg. That allows Portland to carry plenty of confidence into Thursday night, when a non-scoreless draw will be enough to get them into the MLS Cup Final.