What Portland’s First Win Means Moving Forward

Portland starts vital homestand with DC win, but LA challenge up next
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, May 09, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

A quick start. A dramatic finish. And, suddenly, there are some positives for the Portland Timbers.

Saturday night’s 3-2 win over DC United at Providence Park was massive in many ways. Of course, it ended the 8-match winless run that the Timbers had had since the start of the season. It was 3 points that lifted Portland off of the bottom of the Western Conference. And it was a crucial win to start a 3-match homestand that could determine a lot for the rest of the season.

How the goals happened was very important. Gastón Fernández’ goal happened just 34 seconds into the match, but the setup was just as important. Darlington Nagbe won the ball on the sideline, passed to Diego Valeri, who then found Fernández in front of the goal. All that was needed was a quick moment of control and the Timbers were out front.

The 2nd goal was important because it came off of a corner kick, with Futty Danso getting to the ball a split second before the DCU defense in the 38th minute gave Portland the lead back.

Then of course, there was the dramatic stoppage time winner by Maxi Urruti, getting his own rebound and slipping it into the net, unleashing pent-up emotion and a bit of relief from the Timbers faithful. That started with Diego Chara gaining possession, then finding Valeri, who then set up Urruti.

Players that had plenty of questions asked of them over the past weeks came through in this one. Valeri assisted on all 3 goals, and was as close to his 2013 form as he’s been all season as he seemingly was in control in the attacking half of the field. Fernández was all over the field, and his energy was contagious. While his goal came early, Fernández kept the pressure on DC defense all game.

Chara and Will Johnson both had strong games in the midfield, helping the Timbers to some of their best possession of the season. While having just 51.4 percent of possession still isn’t approaching some of what was seen last season, there was more of a sense of the Portland midfield controlling the match at times with DC than in previous matches in 2014.

While Darlington Nagbe still hasn’t scored (though he came real close in the 68th minute, hitting the side netting after Valeri chipped him a pass in the box), he continues to make an impact. His steal helped set up the Fernández goal, and he was causing problems all night on the right side of the field.

But with all of that improvement, it is worth noting that the DCU defense gave Portland a bit more room to work with on Saturday, rather than packing inside the penalty area, and that is something the Timbers haven’t seen much of for large portions of the season. That they were able to take advantage of that when needed, especially on the Danso and Urruti goals, was vital.

Now, things get a bit more interesting. It’s a national TV match coming up on Sunday, as the LA Galaxy arrive at Providence Park. That the Timbers and Galaxy are level on points with 8, but are both 5 points behind the last Western Conference playoff spot (currently held by Vancouver), makes this one a bit more important than the usual May matchup.

This is especially true for LA, as they have played 3 fewer matches than Portland. Three points for the Galaxy, especially after a frustrating 1-0 road loss at Colorado that saw Robbie Keane miss a penalty kick that could have leveled the score, will be welcome as they look to bounce back from 2 frustrating matches.

A hungry Galaxy squad will be a major challenge for the Timbers. Landon Donovan is still looking for the goal that will make him the all-time leading goal scorer in MLS history, Keane was held scoreless for the first time in 5 matches by Colorado and Omar Gonzalez will be back after leaving the Colorado match early with a minor knee injury. It will also be Donovan’s last match before joining the US men’s national team to start preparing for the World Cup.

It means added pressure on the Portland defense, which looked decent at times on Saturday but still had its moments (including Danso’s own goal that tied the match 2-2). The LA defense may also allow Valeri, Chara and Johnson room to move and set up, and Fernández may see some extra attention to ensure he stays off the scoresheet.

But the LA match will be as much about the Timbers trying to maintain momentum as the Galaxy trying to regain it. If Portland can convert the chances that will come and limit what Keane and Donovan can create, much like they did in 2 home wins over LA in 2013, then they have a chance to snag a win and keep the Galaxy reeling.

That’s a tall order. The positives of the DC United win can quickly dissipate if a loss happens on Sunday. With the spotlight of national TV shining bright, it’s the chance for Portland to show that they are on their way back and will be among the West’s playoff contenders again in 2014.

Otherwise, the questions come back.

NEXT UP: May 11 – Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 2:30 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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