Diego Valeri, Timbers vs. RSL, 8.31.19
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

What We'll Remember | New direction for the Timbers; new looks for the team's icons

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers would have taken uneventful, if offered that ahead of time, as long as uneventful came with a win. Thankfully for them, that’s exactly what Saturday night’s game delivered: one goal; few chances; and little drama over 90 minutes as the Timbers downed Real Salt Lake, 1-0, at Providence Park.

It was Portland’s fourth-straight win over RSL, and thanks to Diego Valeri’s 16th-minute opener, the Timbers have still never trailed the Claret and Cobalt in the Giovanni Savarese era. With Salt Lake's best (and perhaps only big) chance coming late in stoppage time, most of the match's drama centered on implications: of the Timbers ending their two-game losing streak; of Portland taking three points from a team that entered the night second in the Western Conference.

In terms of that conference placing, the win didn’t change the Timbers’ outlook. They’re still in eighth place, one spot below the playoff line, even though they’re only four points back of second in the West. Thanks to this result, the line between one of the conference’s prime positions and missing the postseason entirely is becoming dubiously small.

In terms of What We’ll Remember from the night, though, it’s unlikely to be the playoff picture. That’s for later in the season. For now, we’ll remember tonight’s game winner, the new looks we saw from a couple of Portland icons, as well as the feeling of a team getting back in the win column.

Bring back the knuckleball

Perhaps Wikipedia is wrong about this, but 50 years ago, there were six active Major League pitchers who threw knuckleballs. Today, that list is down to two, neither of whom have been consistent big-league pitchers in their careers. As the last three of four generations of baseball fans, there’s been a fear that the knuckleball is about to be extinct. Once Ryan Feierabend and Steve Wright retire, baseball’s endangered species may be done.

Major League Soccer, however, may still have its Phil Niekro, if Valeri’s goal is any indication. Buckling in mid-flight as it targeted Nick Rimando’s net, Valeri’s long-distance shot gave the goalkeeping icon little chance, forcing the former U.S. international to commit to a space the ball was about to elude:

It was Valeri’s eighth goal of the season, leaving him two scores from a third-consecutive 10-goal/10-assist campaign. His biggest memento from the night, though, may have been the jersey wore off the field. With Rimando retiring at season’s end, Valeri snared the most important relic from what may be the legend's last game at Providence Park.

New looks for both Diegos

Valeri’s new (or, retro) look probably didn’t help or hurt his performance, but when a man decides to cut off a beard he’s worn for four years, the change is going to stand out. Clean shaven with a new haircut, the Portland captain turned back the clock to 2015, the last time the Timbers’ all-time leading scorer played some from of a Borchers.

Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Timbers

Valeri wasn’t the only Diego to throw our eyes a curve on Saturday. Diego Chara, whose braided hair has been a staple of his game-day appearance since he debuted with Portland, twisted the look slightly on Saturday, going with a different pattern with gathered hair kept loose on top. Though we still don’t know how long Chara’s hair truly is, now we know he’s willing to change things up.

Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Timbers

Win or lose, we probably would have remembered the Diegos’ new looks. On a night like Saturday’s, though, it was one of the stories that stood out.

Back in the win column

Had tonight’s result gone another way, it would have been time to start worrying. The Timbers would have lost three in a row, all at home, and would have been five points back of a playoff spot. Maybe this didn’t feel like a huge game coming into the night, but in the face of that counterfactual, the result was important.

Now, it’s time to start rebuilding momentum. Second place is still within reach for Portland, but given the team’s recent setbacks, first things first may be the better approach. With Sporting Kansas City due at Providence Park next Saturday (7:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS), the Timbers will have a chance to deal a debilitating blow to another playoff hopeful. Take care of business then, and we can get back to talking about securing home field.