Heber (right) congratulates Timbers defender Dario Zuparic after the game. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

To put the MLS Is Back Tournament in a nutshell for New York City FC: the team was better in its final games of the competition, but not always good enough.

Translated:

NYCFC was inconsistent.

Case in point: City’s 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers in the quarterfinals at ESPN Wide World of Sports Saturday night.

“I think we have improved during the tournament,” head coach Ronny Deila said. “I think we had some really good games.”

That included two wins: a 1-0 victory over Inter Miami CF that avoided a group-stage elimination and a 3-1 upset of 2019 MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC in the Round of 16.

Then came Saturday night.

“Today I think we weren’t good at offensive marking enough and they got too many chances on the counterattacks,” Deila said. “But I think we improved during the tournament and I’m sad we didn’t get through to the next stage. But we have to just learn from it and work harder into the next game.”

Portland’s counterattack made life difficult for NYCFC on defense.

“We couldn’t cope with their counter attacking,” Deila said. “That was the big thing today. They were very clinical when they had opportunities. We are disappointed of course, but the boys worked hard, and we just have to go home now to train and improve to make us ready for the league.”

Major League Soccer is making plans for the league to return in abbreviated form after the Aug. 11 final.

“I felt we’ve come on leaps and bounds as a team.” midfielder Gary Mackay-Steven said. “We’ve had good training, good games and the boys really know how the manager wants us to play now and I felt certainly, especially in the Toronto game, even the Miami game and even the Philadelphia game, there were signs we’re doing what the manager wants us to do.

“There’s definitely been progress, so we’re happy to be back playing games. I would say it’s disappointing tonight, but we’ll go back to New York and regroup and keep training hard and be prepared for what comes next.”