PORTLAND — Frustration was evident Sunday as Portland Timbers players and coach Caleb Porter reviewed the near misses and tough breaks after a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake at Jeld-Wen Field ended the 2013 season.
But there was respect, too.
The Real Salt Lake team that eliminated the Timbers and advanced to the MLS Cup final is in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Portland just completed its third season in the league.
“What I would say about our group is that we didn’t look out of place,” said Porter, who took over the Timbers at the start of this season. “I think that’s remarkable for our team, really 10 months into this, to be in the position we’re in. In saying that, there are some things we’ll learn from the series and when we’re back — and we will be back — we’ll do better.”
Captain Will Johnson, who came to Portland in an offseason trade with RSL, said patience is one of the lessons from Sunday’s defeat.
“If we can just be composed, a little more experienced. I think that’ll go a long way,” Johnson said.
He was talking about keeping possession on the ground and working to create cracks in RSL, rather than just pumping balls forward as the urgency increased. But his statement could also apply to the process of developing a championship club.
On Sunday, Portland might have had better luck if referee Mark Geiger had not been in the best place to see Rodney Wallace put two hands on Lovel Palmer’s back as Wallace went up to head the ball that led to Futty Danso’s disallowed goal in the 15th minute.
In a sport where a bounce or a break often separates champions from also-rans, Porter and the Timbers insisted there was nothing fluky about the franchise’s rise in 2013.
Finishing atop the Western Conference in the regular season, the Timbers were 23 points better than in 2012. Their goal differential improved by a league-record 43 from 2012 to 2013. The Timbers’ plus-21 goal differential in the regular season was best in the league this season.
Among the notable stories from Portland’s 2013 season were these:
• A MLS-record four players scored nine or more goals in the regular season.
• Diego Valeri scored 10 regular-season goals, while Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson and Ryan Johnson each scored nine.
• The Timbers had a league-high 15 shutouts in the regular season, a MLS-record 11 of those at home.
“We’re no longer the Portland Timbers that everybody beats up on. We’re starting to become an elite team in this league,” Johnson said. “If we (perform) consistently, we’ll find ourselves in championship games year after year if we continue to have that hunger and desire. To me, this just makes us hungrier — if that’s possible.”
• Nagbe honored — On Monday, MLS announced that Timbers midfielder/forward Darlington Nagbe won the 2013 Xbox Individual Fair Play Award. The award is selected by MLS based on criteria such as fouls committed, cards received, games and minutes played, as well as subjective evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior. Nagbe, 23, had career highs in games played (34), minutes played (2,848), goals (nine) and assists (four) during the regular season.