The Portland Timbers haven’t lost a match in nearly four months, which includes an extended unbeaten run in MLS.
They’ll play their first league match in two weeks, and first without three of their top scorers, as they visit the struggling Columbus Crew on Sunday.
Portland’s last defeat came March 9 against Montreal in its second match of the season, and it has gone 11-0-8 across all competitions since. The Timbers (7-1-9) defeated Colorado 3-0 in their last MLS contest June 23, as Rodney Wallace assisted on goals by Frederic Piquionne and Will Johnson.
None of the three, though, will be available for Sunday’s match due to international duty as they prepare for Gold Cup competition. They also didn’t play in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Mexican side Monarcas Morelia in an international friendly, as coach Caleb Porter rested most of the team’s starters.
“The No. 1 priority was to get through the game healthy, to get guys experience, to keep some guys ticking over and keep them sharp,” Porter said. “I thought that if you are looking at all of those things, it was mission accomplished.”
He also was impressed with how Portland carried the play despite many of the regulars not being in the lineup.
“We were controlling the game and to me that was very pleasing,” Porter said. “We were possessing the ball.”
The Timbers’ current run includes a 15-match unbeaten streak in MLS play, and Porter will be looking for his team to extend that streak against players he coached at Akron, where he won a national championship in seven years before taking the Portland job after the 2012 NCAA season.
Porter mentored current Crew players Chad Barson, Ben Speas and Wil Trapp while with the Zips.
“Basically, I like to say everything about my game is a result of Coach Porter,” Barson said. “The way we trained at Akron, the mentality he teaches you how to approach life, how to approach school, how to approach soccer; it’s really all from him. I see a lot of him in myself. When I talk, when I play, just everything really.”
The trio will attempt to put those personal emotions aside as Columbus (5-8-5) looks to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat after suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday.
The Crew led 1-0 late on a goal in the 78th minute from Bernardo Anor before the Galaxy converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute and another PK in second minute of stoppage time.
Despite the losing streak, team assistant Brian Bliss believes the Crew are headed in the right direction.
“It’s easy to say we’re not that far off, but we’re not,” Bliss said. “Most of our games have been decided by one play on either end of the field. We’ve been playing a decent brand of soccer. We come out with the right amount of energy, but I think it comes down to one play in the attacking end or the defensive end. That’s been the margin of winning or losing.”
Portland has shut out its last three MLS opponents and held Columbus scoreless in two of three all-time meetings.