By James Morgan
The Portland Timbers racked up another win Friday night in a 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union at Jeld-Wen Field (JWF) in Portland before a sold-out and rain-besodden crowd. Defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso (Futty) scored the winning goal in the 72nd minute with a well-placed header off of a clinical corner kick from Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury. The win was the Timbers’ second straight in MLS play and their fourth straight at home.
On its face, the game was a classic match-up of contrasting styles, pitting the Timbers, who are developing a reputation as a fast-paced attacking team that favors a good offense, against the Union, who have already distinguished themselves as one of the league’s stingiest defensive sides and who favor a plodding pace that wears opponents down. Knowledgeable prognosticators predicted a low-scoring game in which the team that scored first was likely to bring home the win, and in fact, this is largely what happened.
What remained intangible were a variety of unknowns such as how well the so far indomitable-looking Union defense would hold up in the pouring rain and before the roaring crowds at JWF; how well the Timbers would deal with the frustration of trying to crack the Union’s wall-like defense; how well the Union would be able to cope with the Timbers’ offensive fire-power and obvious superiority in terms of speed.
In the starting minutes, a few things became clear. For one, an early fourth minute offside call against Portland forward Jorge Perlaza showed two things: one, that the Union defenders were struggling with the speed of Timbers’ overlapping wing attacks, and two, that the young Timbers side lacked the discipline to easily deal with the Union’s stacked defense.
Matters carried on through much of the first half with the Timbers wings making a hash of the Union defense up the sides, but finding themselves unable to execute in the final third of the pitch as the Union’s vaunted back-line closed down all efforts on the box.
The Timbers made a variety of shots and created vague opportunities while dominating possession, but were unable to execute. In the 26th minute, Futty had a chance on a header off of a Jewsbury corner kick, but like all the others, it was wide of the net.
In the latter part of the first half, Philly began to poke holes in what looked to be a flagging Timbers defense and were able to create several chances of their own, including a 39th minute shot on goal that Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins saved with great aplomb.
The second half of the match began with vigorous play on both sides, but soon degenerated to the original theme of the Timbers pushing with superior speed and attacking down either wing, and the Union relying on solid defense and counters. In the 62nd and 63rd minutes the Union rallied offensively and applied real pressure on the Timbers defense which in the past, has been known to collapse. However, the Timbers managed to clear it and in the 72nd minute a do-over of Jewsbury’s corner to a Futty header found the back of the net to put the Timbers up one.
The Union fought hard, but scoring goals is not in their DNA, and despite a 79th minute pair of subs that included Jack McInerney coming in as a forward for midfielder Amobi Okugo –a move clearly intended to up their offensive power– they were unable to thwart a Timbers side that wasn’t content to sit back on their lead, and that, to the contrary, continued to threaten until the whistle was blown. To their credit, the Union made a final desperate attempt in the 86th and 87th minutes on a throw in to a six yard shot by Sebastien Le Toux that ended in a tangle, but not before Timbers keeper Perkins was able to lock it away. A series of yellow cards were distributed, but by then, the party was over.
The Timbers remain 4-0-0 at home in regular MLS league play and with this win move into third place in the MLS Western Conference behind the LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids. The Union remain in second place in the MLS Eastern Conference, but have officially been put on notice that pure defense probably won’t cut it at the upper levels.
Other Notes and Questions:
Two weeks ago the Timbers got their asses handed to them by the LA Galaxy in a 3-0 blowout that must have been, quite frankly, embarrassing. To their credit, far from laying down and playing the poor little expansion team that bit off more than it could chew, they turned around and gave Real Salt Lake –widely considered MLS’s finest team– their first loss in a brutal match that could have easily gone either way, but that in the end was won by the Timbers’ speedy offense that kept blazing down the wings and making things happen.
Not good enough? OK. This time it was against the Philadelphia Union, a team that, while for my money is nowhere near as complete as Real Salt Lake, is also known for its defense and is also ranked high among current MLS sides.
What happened? Again, a torrent of speed and blistering pace on the part of the Timbers eventually found a hole for the win.
All of which raises the question: are the Portland Timbers for real? Are they a side that has to be taken seriously even though they do bear the “expansion team” label?
From here, it looks like it would be a mistake for any team to take the Portland Timbers for granted. We’ll see how the “boys in green” progress through the season, but I think it’s safe to say that they are no longer a sure win for anyone.
Everybody likes to say that Portland supporters have a big notion of themselves in the same way that all expansion team supporters do, but the word around the league is that the Timbers Army has upped the ante significantly and that when you play at JWF, you know you’re in a fight. Name me another stadium in the league that can do a call and response on the level of “We are the Rose City! You can’t stop us!” and then we’ll talk. My guess is that the crowd intensity at JWF just might have something to do with the fact that the Timbers have yet to lose there in regular season play.