It didn’t take long for the Revs to run into trouble against the Timbers on Friday night.
With Portland’s pace and potent attack setting the tone in the opening minutes, the Revs knew it was going to be a long night when they found themselves encamped inside their own box early. And it was precisely what Revolution manager Steve Nicol didn’t want to see.
“The one thing we talked about was not backing off and defending in our penalty box,” Nicol said. “We can't start games defending inside our own penalty box."
But even in light of Nicol’s advice in advance, the Revs’ defense fell back into the dangerous habit of dropping deep into their own half and doing their best to absorb the attack. And when Diego Chara divided three defenders and pushed his shot past Matt Reis to give the Timbers an early 1-0 lead, well, the final whistle might as well have blown right then and there.
"The early goal hurts us,” Revolution defender Darrius Barnes said. “From that point on, we're just chasing the game and it just kind of takes the air out of everybody when we give up a goal like that.”
Chasing the game is something that the Revs have grown troublingly accustomed to this season. Against speedy teams like the Timbers, the Revs’ back four often find themselves disorganized and exposed. As a result, their opponents find acres of space to work with, and before long, the defending four become sitting ducks.
Such was the case on Friday night. With a number of New England players in the shadow of their own net, the Timbers accepted the invitation to attack -- and did so, with a fury. Within the first half alone, the Timbers fired an ambitious 11 shots, scored two goals, and tested the undisciplined Revs frequently.
By the time the whistle blew on the first half, Nicol already knew. He knew that there was little he could do to jump-start his squad, which hadn’t come back from a two-goal gap all season.
"It's too late, you're two-nil down,” Nicol said. “You can't play away from home and give teams two goals to start and then try and chase the game.”
While Nicol’s frustrations going into the half may have been understandable, if not completely realistic, the gaffer did something he’s done only on the rarest of occasions: He openly blamed his defense -- which lazily leaked through two first-half goals thanks to poor man-marking and soft challenges inside the box -- for the loss.
“Our back four in the first half,” Nicol said. “That's [the reason] why we lost the game tonight."
Although the defense gradually tightened up in the second half, it wasn’t long before another goal added to the Revs’ embarrassment. From a Kalif Alhassan cross, Darlington Nagbe separated himself from a noticeably-casual Chris Tierney inside the area and nodded it through to make it a 3-0 match in the 66th minute.
“It's just unfortunate we gave up another weak goal in the second half, off pretty much a free header,” Barnes said. “That pretty much takes the wind out of us."
The Revs, facing a three-goal deficit against a ferocious opponent, never found the form or urgency to fight back, and, as a result, were kept off the board for the first time in nearly two months.
And while the Timbers deserved credit for scoring a trio of goals and keeping their foot on the gas for the duration of the game, the Revs knew their weaknesses ultimately led to the humbling defeat.
“We just gave up some really weak goals tonight,” Barnes said. “And it cost us."