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FARLEY | Win in San Jose allows Timbers to move forward after taxing first month

The Portland Timbers spent the last six days surrounded by reasons to fall in San Jose. By week’s end, there were nine of them. That’s how many players were listed as “Out” on the team’s injury report, leaving a depleted group to venture south for tonight’s match against the Earthquakes – a team that entered the weekend second in MLS’s Western Conference.

Somewhere along the line, the Timbers moved beyond excuses. The team’s strong start said as much, as did the final result. Leading from the fifth minute on, Portland got goals from Yimmi Chara and Marvin Loría, as well as a pair of assists from Eryk Williamson, and claimed their second win of the MLS season, overcoming the absence of one-third of their squad to win at PayPal Park, 2-0.

"It’s a result that we really needed," Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese conceded after the match. "We needed these three points, especially with so many injuries that we have. This showed the mentality and the character of the team.”

It feels wrong to label any May result as a “big win.” Those who’ve followed MLS for any meaningful time know spring games mean little compared to how a team builds for the playoffs. Coming off three games without a win, though, the Timbers were facing a potential slide. With so many players injured, when would Portland be able to regroup?

After tonight’s result, that regroup off to a great start. In addition to those nine injuries — ailments that meant Jeff Attinella, Diego Chara, Larrys Mabiala, Steve Clark, Aljaz Ivacic, Sebastian Blanco, Ismaila Jome, Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Cristhian Paredes were unavailable — the team needed to rest some players. Diego Valeri didn’t start. Neither did Josecarlos Van Rankin. Dairon Asprilla, a regular starter through the season’s first month, was also rotated out of the starting lineup and didn’t appear until late. Not only was Portland limited by their absences, but they had to preserve their healthy players, as well.

"From the jump, we knew we were going to be without a lot of our core guys," Williamson explained, "so everyone who stepped on the field gave it their all. Guys were cramping, and guys were pushing their body to the limit tonight."

Focusing too much on the players who didn’t play risks ignoring Saturday’s more important story: the players who did. Williamson was the night’s star, but the newest Timber, goalkeeper Logan Ketterer, wasn’t far behind. The loanee from El Paso Locomotive FC saved a penalty in the second half and kept a cleansheet in his first MLS start. An emergency signing on Thursday, Ketterer’s backstory alone might draw Team of the Week plaudits.

Focus on that backstory, and you might think Saturday’s team was patched together. It wasn’t. Williamson was still out there, as were Yimmi Chara and Felipe Mora. Those are high-profile acquisitions who will play major roles throughout the season. Players like Jeremy Ebobisse, Dario Zuparic and Claudio Bravo have a similar status and expectations, while players like Loría, Andy Polo, Bill Tuiloma and Pablo Bonilla are no strangers to Timbers lineups. For as depleted as Portland’s squad is at the moment, their depth is still strong, and much as it did two weeks ago in a home win over Houston Dynamo FC, that depth carried the team at PayPal.

Perhaps the strength of that depth will be the big takeaway from Saturday’s win. Well, that and the three points. As much as the mood seemed to change around the team after Sunday’s loss to Seattle Sounders FC, one week and a new game was all it took to provide a different perspective. Is the team dealing with a lot of injuries? Yes, but the healthy players can still get results. Was the team in a good place, competitively, after its losses to Seattle and Club América? No, but the season is young, and so early in the season, a “good place” is not that far off. Portland may have forced to adjust for their absences, but ultimately, that’s what their depth is for.

With the win, Portland climbs to ninth in the Western Conference and one point out of a playoff spot, both of which feel completely irrelevant, right now. What matters more is how the team is growing, and how they’ll move forward as the season moves on. Tonight, the team got a needed confidence boost, as well as a reminder of what their talent is capable of.

"The guys had a lot of character," Savarese said. "Everybody worked for each other, we were smart in the areas that we wanted to have the ball to create chances, and then when we had to defend, there was a lot of sacrifice from the guys to ensure that we stayed disciplined, and that we followed the plan that we set forward for this match."

There are still obstacles to overcome. Nobody got healthier because of tonight’s victory. But the points buy the Timbers more time, and time, as of now, if back on Portland’s site. There are still 29 games left in the regular season, and the Timbers won’t play another mid-week game for over a month. Until Portland visits the Dynamo on June 23, the Timbers will be able to pace themselves.

Maybe tonight’s victory wasn’t a truly “big win,” but in the moment, it feels important. The Timbers can start their regroup from the win column, and potentially turn the page on a taxing first month.

Take in everything from Portland's win at San Jose: