The Buzzsaw: Timbers vs Houston Dynamo
For the first time since 2010, the Portland Timbers have won three league games in a row.
Of course, this being the Timbers, there had to be at least some drama. For a while—85 minutes to be precise—it looked like another one of those games, the far-too-common feat of dominating passing and possession but not getting a result.
Of all people, Fanendo Adi was having none of it.
Not twenty minutes after subbing on for Dairon Asprilla, Portland’s #9 connected with the business end of a gorgeous Jorge Villafaña free kick. This being Fanendo Adi, he needed a brace, and the big Nigerian did not disappoint, poking in Alvas Powell’s diagonal. It even got nominated for GOTW. 2-0 Portland; magic, rainbows, kittens and unicorns.
It’s exciting, encouraging—and sadly a bit common. Six other teams have accomplished that feat this year alone; eleven did it last year. BUT! History is history, and if you’re looking for a sign (who isn’t??), it looks like this team is maybe, really, truly ready to roll.
After a hectic, six-game May, the Timbers enjoyed a week off before Tuesday night’s incredible scenes in Tukwila, where they won 3-1 against the Seattle Sounders. In defeating the fishy club to the north, Portland simultaneously knocked off the Open Cup holders, ended the hosts’ 10-year, 20+ match Open Cup unbeaten streak in that venue, and pushed their own winning streak to 4 in all competitions.
On top of all that, the Timbers haven’t had to leave the Rose City (or its environs) in a while.
As we all catch our breath from mocking Clint Dempsey, we turn our attention to Houston Dynamo, the next up at Providence Park. Lest we forget, Owen Coyle’s group is just a month removed from thrashing Portland 3-1 in Texas. Looking at where the Timbers have gone since leaves a very interesting question heading into Saturday night’s tilt: can the Timbers reverse a bad result?
Caleb Porter pointed to three specific aspects of Houston’s attack that ultimately doomed the Timbers: crosses, counter-attacks, and set pieces. Indeed, the Dynamo rely heavily on the left foot of Brad Davis. The USMNT midfielder provided the assist on the Orange’s opener, off of a free kick. Two more goals came on the counter, including a late dagger when Portland was pushing for an equalizer.
With Will Johnson back from international duty with Canada, Portland’s defensive midfield is as strong as it’s been all season. Considering the sudden rash of injuries up front, it will have to be. Additionally, Alvas Powell had to be subbed off in Tukwila, leaving the Timbers potentially without one of their most dynamic players, who also happens to lead the league in tackles won.
If the Jamaican can’t go, Caleb Porter will choose his replacement from Jack Jewsbury, Taylor Peay, or Jeanderson. Cap’n Jack is obviously the veteran here and is the likely deputy, but Peay filled in admirably on Tuesday after Powell’s departure, and Jeanderson is coming off a week in which he was named to the USL Team of the Week. If this season has proven anything, it’s that you can never have too much quality depth.
Speaking of which, as one position strengthens, another gets stretched. Diego Valeri scored Portland’s opening goal and put in a solid 60-minute shift in Tukwila, but Porter stated earlier this week that the Argentine would play in one game this week. The Argentine is all but unavailable for Saturday (though you never know!) and Dairon Asprilla’s rolled ankle has him sidelined for an indefinite period of time. It leaves precious little behind Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, and Gaston Fernandez.
This heaps pressure on the strikers, but they have been productive of late. Adi and Maxi Urruti have combined for four goals in Portland’s last four matches in all competitions, while RodWall and La Gata have each chipped in a goal and an assist their last three (all comps). La Gata has, more importantly, accepted his role and developed chemistry with the strikers.
The West is packed tightly, and the Timbers sit as far from second place as they do ninth (4pts). The Dynamo, who are otherwise perfectly middle-of-the-road, sporting a 5-5-5 record would be 4th in the East. Out here in the Top Division, they’re 7th, just two points behind three teams (including PTFC) on 22 points, and two points head of 9th place RSL.
There is opportunity and peril. If it says anything about how far the Timbers have come in the past few weeks, we can finally prioritize ambition over impending doom. Four in a row doesn’t mean we have to stop. It’s summer in Portland: let’s go streaking!