The Portland Timbers desperately needed a win, and they got it.
On an evening when the Timbers Army deployed a banner showcasing discontent for the team’s poor start —namely the fact that Portland seemingly sits perpetually below the playoff line—the boys in green took an important step towards the promised land.
Caleb Porter, faced with a quick turnaround ahead of Saturday’s match in Colorado, used the Timbers’ busy schedule as an opportunity to rotate his squad a bit. It began, first and foremost, with the return of Will Johnson to his rightful post alongside Diego Chara.
Everyone seemed to benefit from the Captain’s presence.
Ultimately, a solid performance needs to be repaid with a goal. Maxi Urruti started in place of Fanendo Adi and took advantage in his trademark style, scoring a quick goal. For a change, the Timbers took an early lead and held on. Finally, truth be told, the 1-0 victory could have been a lot more lopsided, had it not been for the heroics of Bill Hamid. There’s no shame in the opposing keeper winning SOTW, and the USMNT netminder kept his team in the game, producing big save after big save, finishing with a whopping eight stops on the night.
With three points in the bank, the Timbers head to Colorado to face the 2-3-7 Rapids, the only team below them in the Western standings.
Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids got off to a rocky (pun gently intended) start to 2015, needing five matches to record a goal, let alone a win. After that 4-0 explosion against F.C. Dallas, the Rapids went on another lengthy winless streak, dropping one and drawing four before defeating the Whitecaps.
Like Portland, a multi-goal outburst against Dallas props up an otherwise lowly scoring record. With 10 goals scored in 12 matches, the Rapids have only outscored Montreal and NYCFC – two teams the Timbers happen to have beaten. Colorado has in turn bolstered their attack, adding 24-year old Argentine striker, Luis Solignac from Nueva Chicago (yes, that’s a real team) and 31-year old Republic of Ireland international and EPL veteran forward/mid (and DP) Kevin Doyle.
Those new weapons join incumbent attackers Dillon Powers and Gabriel Torres to form a solid 4-man front in a 4-2-3-1. Veteran keeper Clint Irwin is solid between the sticks behind a back line of veterans Marc Burch, Drew Moor, (former Timber) Mikey Harrington, and hulking, 6’7” rookie Axel Sjöberg (pronounced “hoo-berg”). The Rapids—again, like the Timbers—are more talented than their record shows.
Three points from a well-played 90 minutes has breathed new life into the Timbers. Having the Captain back made a visible difference across the board; his leadership and on-field motivation (red-faced arm flailing!) was sorely missed, but so too was his delivery on set pieces.
Portland’s improvement isn’t simply cosmetic.
Alvas Powell and Dairon Asprilla had perhaps their best games in Green & Gold, with little statistical backup (aside from Asprilla’s 2 shots on goal). The Timbers won without relying on Adam Kwarasey, who had a night off in comparison to the Toronto match, or Nat Borchers, who had an actual night off. The key is translating a home win against D.C. United’s “B” team into points on the road against a rapidly (pun gently indented) improving Colorado.
Did we mention the Timbers have never won in Commerce City? Portland’s dreadful 0-4-2 record at Dick’s Sporting Park is nearly unmatched anywhere else. A win would speak volumes to this team’s progress.
Can this team take another step forward without stumbling back? Momentum is up for grabs.