PORTLAND, Ore. – A little over a half hour into their midweek match against Houston Dynamo FC, the Portland Timbers needed an injection of life.
In a half filled with chippy fouls and yellow cards up to that point, Portland struggled to generate dangerous possession in the final third as Houston built up a quick shots advantage. Then, almost out of nothing, Santiago Moreno provided the spark the hosts needed, scoring a brace in two minutes as the Timbers dispatched the Dynamo 2-1 at Providence Park.
“We were the better team and we created those two moments,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Moreno picking up the ball to take [the penalty] shows maturity and the second goal was a very good goal.”
Moreno’s first goal came from the penalty spot in the 34th minute after Houston’s Daniel Steres brought Yimmi Chara down in the box. Houston goalkeeper Steve Clark guessed the right direction, but couldn’t react quickly enough to make a serious dive at Moreno’s well-taken penalty.
“Last game I asked \[Sebastián Blanco\] if I could score the penalty and he wanted to take it,” Moreno said. “I think as soon as he saw me approach him to ask [to take the penalty tonight] he was okay with me taking it. Any time that I have a chance like that I feel confident that I am going to be able to score.”
Two minutes later, as green smoke hung in the late-afternoon air, Moreno doubled his tally as well as the Timbers’ lead. The assist will be credited to Yimmi Chara, who delivered a low pass in the box, but it was Eryk Williamson allowing the ball to roll past him to Moreno that allowed the Colombian to find enough space to strike the ball past Clark.
Moreno’s last dangerous opportunity of the night came in the 63rd minute during a scramble in the attacking third. After receiving the ball on the right side of the box, the 22-year-old tested Clark with an ambitious shot from a tight angle, one final display of the confidence he had been playing with all night.
Replaced in the 78th minute, Moreno couldn’t become the first Timber to score a hat trick, but his night ended with a thundering roar from the home fans as he walked off the pitch.
“I always try to give the best of me,” Moreno said. “In the last matches I haven’t been able to score, but I’m always trying. With Gio [Savarese] there’s always a defensive part in mind I have to work on, so I haven’t been able to get into the final third as much, but I feel confident for the matches that are coming.”
Wednesday night’s match proved to be much more eventful than the scoreless draw between the two club’s back in April, especially after the game’s opening half hour. Houston super-sub Darwin Quintero made the match interesting in the 65th minute, chipping goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic from outside the box to cut Portland’s lead in the half.
But Portland did enough to secure the result and it largely came down to a team effort. It was Ivacic whose double save allowed the Timbers to keep their two-goal advantage early in the second half, proving vital after Quintero’s strike. The team also had to step up after defender Bill Tuiloma was sent off in the 75th minute after picking up a second yellow.
“I said if [Houston] scores on us I’m going to get crazy because I’m tired of late goals being scored on us,” Ivacic said. “But it’s a team effort and it paid off in the end.”
But it was Moreno that stole the show with a memorable two minutes that kept those at Providence Park on their feet and ensured a second-straight victory at home.
“I’m very happy about my goals, but I’m just happy to get the three points and the win tonight,” Moreno said.