PORTLAND, Ore. – For a majority of the first half, chance after chance went wanting.
A cross from Jaroslaw Niezgoda to a wide open Yimmi Chara at the back post whizzed past the Colombian winger by a few feet. A Bill Tuiloma header flew just above the goal while a two-on-one opportunity against Colorado's William Yarbrough ended in the goalkeeper's grasp.
But in that stretch over the opening 45 minutes, the Timbers showed frustrating glimpses of what they are capable of offensively and the level of play they can reach. Throughout the first 10 minutes, players pinged the ball back and forth with confidence and allowed passes to roll past them, trusting a teammate would be there with a better opportunity.
Finally, at the stroke of halftime, Sebastián Blanco converted from the penalty spot as Portland turned a nervy game into a second-half rout, beating the Rapids 3-0 at Providence Park on a toasty Saturday evening.
“We needed this win in this fashion to feel more engaged,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said, “so that we can continue to grow in this part of the season, especially at home.”
You have to go back to May 14, a resounding 7-2 win against Sporting Kansas City, to find the last time the Timbers clicked like they did this Saturday night. Coincidentally, it was also the last time Savarese’s side scored at home as well as the last time it secured all three points.
It’s unreasonable to expect Portland to play at the level it did that night all the time, few clubs do, but it has to find a happy medium. For example, in the four matches since they put up a touchdown on SKC, the Timbers have netted just four goals. Against Colorado, Portland fans saw what that balance could look like in a two-goal second half where those dangerous chances finally became tangible goals.
“That’s football,” Niezgoda said. “Sometimes you score a second goal and everything is going to be easier for you and harder for your opponent. We just believed more and sometimes you can win these kinds of games five, six to zero.”
With a final goal tally that matched the club’s expected goals total of 3.1, the Timbers played a game in which their finishing matched the quality of chances they created. Both teams ended the match tied with 19 shots, but the hosts generated better chances and while they couldn’t finish every look, the numbers averaged out as the floodgates opened in the second half.
“The whole group felt very united,” Savarese said. “You felt that energy from the group and I think that’s what we have to continue to show.”
When the game settled down after the opening 10-15 minutes, it was Blanco who finally broke the deadlock with a penalty kick won by Santiago Moreno, who got on the ball in the final third, rounded William Yarbrough and was taken out in the box. Blanco’s goal, as simple as it appeared, spurred Portland on as it entered the locker room and prepared for the second half.
“The fact we scored near the end of the first half, that was very important for us,” Savarese said. “That way we felt like we were on top so we could make sure we were better the second half, then we’re going to find more opportunities.”
The Timbers completed the convincing win thanks to Niezgoda’s second-half brace. His first goal came as he chested a deep, direct pass from Tuiloma down in front of him and confidently fired the ball home. His second was a striker’s goal, appearing at the back post to tap home a beautiful, curving ball played in by Eryk Williamson.
As Portland’s lead on the scoreboard grew, the ball began to move quicker as it began to show glimpses of a team that can be truly dangerous, especially when it puts away the quality chances they generate.
“We played well in the first half, but it was all at the same pace,” Blanco said. “We had to change that a little bit and be more aggressive attacking, but also in the counter-attack as [Colorado] gave us a lot of space in the second half.”
Still, it’s easy to feel as if there’s another level the Timbers can reach, especially after seeing how the club has looked for short stretches of recent matches. Against Colorado, Portland did enough to win by at least three goals, but glimpses can be frustrating even if the final result goes your way.
Most importantly though, the Timbers took home all three points as they look to climb the Western Conference table after a slow start to the season. With a fourth victory of the season in hand, consistency is the next step, but on Saturday night players went home satisfied.
“We’re happy of course, but we need to be humble because it’s just one game,” Niezgoda said. “We need to keep winning here and overall. It’s good to win three points, but like I said, we need to be humble.”