Timbers make statement with first clean sheet

Portland circle wagons, ride strong performances against RSL

Troy Perkins with save, Timbers vs. RSL

Photo Credit: 
Photo by Miranda Chrislock

PORTLAND, Ore. – The large piece of white paper attached to the inside of the Timbers’ locker room doors had two words scrawled on it in red ink:

"Clean Sheet."

They were underlined. Twice.

The Timbers were determined to play better defense on Saturday against Real Salt Lake than they did last week at LA Galaxy, when they were badly beaten 3-0. At JELD-WEN Field, Kenny Cooper’s one-touch volley with his right foot put Portland up 1-0 in the 22nd minute. And Portland’s defense held that lead for 68 minutes against an RSL team riding an 18-game MLS unbeaten streak.

“I felt we showed a lot of character after last week, with the goals that we conceded [at LA], to not concede this week and be mentally strong and mentally tough,” Timbers coach John Spencer said following the match.

WATCH: Full Match Highlights

Troy Perkins, making his second start of the season in goal for Portland, earned his first log slice from Timber Joey in appreciation for the first clean sheet of the season.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

“We were organized, we believed that no matter what we were going to fight to the end,” Perkins said. “If a goal came, it came. But we were not going to give up.”

The Timbers altered the lineup a bit, moving Jeremy Hall to a wide defensive position opposite Rodney Wallace, with Eric Brunner and Mamadou Danso between them. Real Salt Lake pressed for a goal through the majority of the second half but the Timbers defense remained well-positioned throughout.

“[RSL] whipped in some good balls from the sides and obviously have guys on the end of them that were flying by,” Perkins said. “But I give credit to the guys in front of me. They dealt with it and made it easy for me.”

The Timbers responded to criticism over a league-high 13 goals and took it as an affront that Real Salt Lake felt it could come into JELD-WEN Field and win without a full complement of starters.

“I think it’s an insult to us the way they come out with a couple of reserve guys and leave a couple guys at home,” Perkins said. “So we wanted to go out and prove that if you’re going to do that we’re going to take advantage of it.”

Real Salt Lake’s best chance may have come in the 90th minute, when 2010 MLS Best XI player Nat Borchers had a header chance in front of the Timbers’ net. Perkins was in the right spot to make an easy catch.

In the first half, Borchers had a similar chance. That time the ball went into the net by RSL was called for a foul on the play. In the 74th minute, Spencer brought forward Jorge Perlaza off and sent on a defensive midfielder, James Marcelin. That gave the Timbers another defender to scuttle RSL’s late attempts for an equalizer.

“In the second half, we flooded the midfield and sat very deep,” Spencer said. “That was not by design. I felt that we started the second half a little bit slow with tempo and allowed them too much time on the ball.”

The end result was all that mattered to the Timbers.

“If you’d have asked me before the game, 'Would you take the clean sheet and three points?'" Spencer joked, "I’d have snapped your hand off."