Avant-première: Timbers at Montreal Impact

Following a much-needed win, the Timbers head to Canada in hot pursuit of three more points.

By Mike Schwartz July 24, 2014

Going down a goal early is nothing new to the 2014 Timbers, but as this team has proven on numerous occasions, there’s no more dangerous a team in MLS than the Timbers, down a goal, in the second half.

In fairness, Deshorn Brown’s opener never touched the net—or the ground—it simply bumbled over the plane of the goal line. The linesman even initially flagged it as offside. It wasn’t the worst goal Portland has conceded this year, but it was another goal conceded off of a failure to clear the 18-yard box on a set piece. 

From there on, the Timbers settled down defensively, largely in-part to the sparkling debut performance of Liam Ridgewell. Eight days off the plane, having not so much as trained since April before arriving in the Rose City, Ridgy’s precise passing, leadership, and communication, and was just what the doctor ordered for the reeling Portland back line.

Following an astute double substiation from Caleb Porter, bringing on Maxi Urruti and Gaston Fernàndez for Fanendo Adi and Steve Zakuani respectively, the Timbers finally broke through. It took Maxi 11 minutes to find the back of the net. Diego Valeri needed barely five more minutes to find the game winner, and possibly a goal of the week, or year (link to come in November).

The win leaves Portland three points out of a playoff spot with fourteen games left to play. They still need to leapfrog Vancouver, who Portland still plays twice (home and away), and the aforementioned Rapids, who the Timbers visit once more (on 9/13).

Adding to the intrigue are the next two matches, both on the road, in two very different locations, against two very different teams. Just ahead of Colorado lay the L.A. Galaxy, to whom the Timbers pay a visit on 8/2, and we’ll get to them in due time. 

But first, it’s a trip to Stade Saputo to face the dead-last Montréal Impact.

Frank Klopas’s revolution in Montréal is taking time. While the former Chicago Fire boss tries to bring stability to a franchise that has seen four managers in just three seasons, the current product on the field is struggling. The bleu-et-noir have accumulated just 14 points from 18 matches and sport a nasty goal difference of -13 (-2 at home). Even worse, the Impact have to travel all the way to Utah for a Thursday night match with RSL before hurrying home to play the Timbers on Sunday. They also seemingly have benched goalkeeper and former Portland fan favorite Troy Perkins, in favor of backup, Evan Bush.

Otherwise, the Impact are generally healthy and delightfully mediocre. Striker (and Designated Player) Marco DiVaio, who scored 20 times in 27 appearances in 2013, has all of four in just 12 apps this year. Joey Saputo, the Impact’s mercurial owner, burned a DP spot on Argentine midfielder, Ignacio Piatti, who sits on the Inactive list and has yet to play a regular season minute for Montréal.

The lone bright spot—both on the pitch and in the front office—has been the acquisition of striker Jack McInerney from Philadelphia, in exchange for Andrew Wenger. The 21-year old Jack Mac has netted six times for his new club, and represents the Impact’s biggest offensive threat.

Gone is the stigma of the Timbers not traveling well. That notion is replaced with visions of playoff victories in Seattle, Brass Balls in Dallas, three goals at Rio Tinto, and three points at Red Bull Arena. Gone too is the bumpy patchwork turf of Stade Olympique from Portland’s last visit to la belle province, replaced by the smooth grass surface of Stade Saputo.

In the place of familiar negativity, there is a confident and in-form Diego Valeri, a motivated Darlington Nagbe, a suddenly solid back line, attacking depth, and an ever-healthier roster. Stumbling to a 1-1 with Colorado would have been expected, considering how things have gone in 2014.

So too for Valeri, whose audacious attempt from distance and resulting match-winning golazo would have fit nicely into the “never attempted” category in the most cynical and resigned Timbers supporter’s mind. Instead, there was confidence, and a “punch us and we’ll punch you back harder” mentality not seen since 2013. And that was a good year.

Considering all of the elements involved: the Timbers’ return to form, Ridgewell’s stability, the Impact’s long-distance quick turnaround double-week (a phrase that can only exist in MLS or the NWSL), and their overall poor form leaves one conclusion:

These are three points for the taking, and it is up to Caleb Porter and his men to grab them.

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