Never is an awfully long time. So if you’ve been blue in the face waiting for the Timbers to finally march out of Rio Tinto Stadium with three points, you may now exhale.
Like Colorado, Dallas, and Seattle before, shedding the mystique from playing at RSL feels like turning the lights on in a dark room: those creaks, those cracks, those bumps in the night are really just figments of your imagination. Yes, Real Salt Lake were missing some key players, but for a team that has not beaten RSL since April 2011 (Kenny Cooper scored the only goal of the game. Think about that.) the absences won't dampen the celebrations. The 11-game winless streak against RSL is now in the rearview mirror.
(Speaking of never: the Timbers were awarded their first penalty of the season, easily converted by Will Johnson to seal the victory. We can now put talk of a league-wide conspiracy to bed.)
A solid road victory is rarely achieved without some heroics, and on Saturday, they came in rapid fire succession. The two tallest men in green—at opposite ends of the pitch, and of their respective careers—helped guide the Timbers through a turbulent first half, and ultimately on to victory. First, Donovan Ricketts’ big saves on either side of Luke Mulholland’s 23’ opener kept Portland in the game. Merely 13 minutes later, a Diego Valeri corner found Fanendo Adi, who brushed RSL defender Chris Schuler off like a bad habit, and headed in the equalizer. Adi’s second came minutes after Ricketts’s save of the week candidate stop when he pounced on a rebound from Darlington Nagbe’s blistering shot right. Portland took a lead into halftime, and for only the second time this season, saw it through to the final whistle. Adi’s brace earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.
In 229 minutes, Fanendo Adi has four goals, two spectacular assists, and eleven shots (eight on goal). That’s instant impact.
Speaking of instant: the Timbers go back at it again tomorrow, at home versus FC Dallas. The former “Burn” come to the Rose City a mere three points ahead of Portland, having played one more game. Currently sitting fourth in the conference, Dallas are the only Western club with more games played than Portland. After a hot start, which saw them win five out of their first seven matches, Dallas has hit a major skid, only winning once in the subsequent nine games.
That win, however, was last week, against one of the better defensive teams in MLS: Colorado. The Timbers, unfortunately, are not among the defensive elite in 2014, having conceded 25 goals, tied for fourth-worst in MLS. Dallas is one of the few teams to have conceded more.
In just eight home dates this year, Providence Park has seen its share of fireworks: 4-4, 3-2, 3-3, and 4-3; in all, 17 goals scored, 17 goals conceded. Enter Dallas, who have scored 26 times and conceded 26 times. By this logic, it could be a wild ride.
Interestingly, though, as Dallas’s wins have dried up, so too has their scoring. They failed to score more than once in every game of their eight-game winless streak. One could easily attribute FC Dallas’s futility to the loss of midfield maestro, Mauro Diaz—their long stretch of futility directly followed Diaz’s knee injury in D.C. on April 26. They also lost midfield lynchpin, Hendry Thomas, to a muscle tear in his right leg.
But what makes Dallas so dangerous just happens to be Portland’s Achilles heel: set pieces. Two defenders—fullbacks to be accurate—are the culprits to watch on Wednesday: Colombian Jair Benitez leads all defenders with four assists, and the dangerous Brazilian, Michel, leads all defenders with five goals, fully three more than the next. The latter has missed the previous four matches with a hamstring injury, and Portland could score a lucky break if he is forced to sit this one out.
This is a match with direct playoff implications, and the season is no longer young. With 19 games remaining (nine at home), taking full points at home is imperative. The Green & Gold don’t play another league game until Sporting KC, in Portland, on 6/27. With only an Open Cup match against the Orlando City U-23s in the middle, this is a huge opportunity for the Timbers to catch their breath. It will be a lot easier to breathe with three more points in the bank.