PORTLAND, Ore. — Six minutes more, and the night would have felt completely different, and while thin margins are endemic to professional soccer, on Saturday at Providence Park, the importance of those margins felt more pronounced.
Breaking a scoreless tie in the game’s 84th minute, Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse blasted a left-footed shot high over goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer’s shoulder, bending the back of the net with this third goal of the season to deliver a 1-0 victory over visiting FC Dallas.
“It was important to get back at home and get a win …,” Ebobisse said after the match. “To come out with a clean sheet, that’s a big one for us. We haven’t had too many of those this year. For me to get a goal, as well, to keep a good rhythm going, that’s something I hope I can take some confidence from and the team can continue to win, because we’ve got a lot of games coming.”
The win was the Timbers’ first in almost a month – the first since their 2-1, home victory over Sporting Kansas City on June 19. The three points move Portland back over the playoff line in the Western Conference and into sixth place ahead of Wednesday night’s visit from Los Angeles FC.
“We’ve been managing a team that has had so many injuries, guys away, and every time, we keep on coming back and trying our best to try to accumulate points,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. Saturday’s game marked the first for Portland since Yimmi Chara and Felipe Mora returned from their spells at Copa América.
“It’s been tough,” Savarese said, “and finally today, we felt we had a good roster to compete. Finally, we’re getting some players back, and it felt more normal. We saw it on the field.”
Saturday’s goal was the 300th for the Timbers in Major League Soccer play at Providence Park, an apt milestone for the full return of fans to Goose Hollow. For the first time since March 2020, Portland was able to sell tickets to capacity at home, with a full North End in attendance to celebrate Ebobisse’s goal.
“It’s great to have had the fans with us - the energy, the passion,” Savarese said. “Getting back to winning, three points, not allowing goals against: a lot of positives, tonight.”
When the crowd reacted to Ebobisse’s goal, their roar felt less about milestones and attendance, more about a breakthrough. The last time Portland was on the field was just over two weeks ago when they suffered a 4-1 loss at Austin FC. The long spell between games gave the team time to regroup, but for the first 83 minutes on Saturday, there was little sign of progress. The frustrations that began to emerge during the 1-0, June 26 loss to Minnesota and erupted on July 1 in Austin were still evident against Dallas.
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When those frustrations eased, the emotion was relief. It was thankfulness, it was ease, and then it was joy, but it wasn’t necessarily triumph. Not yet. There was an appreciation for the scoreboard’s new look but also a memory of how difficult it was to forge that goal. There was also focus on making sure the win was seen out.
“There are going to be areas that we’re going to continue grow, that we’re going to continue to make better as a team – getting into our confident path,” Savarese explained. “Now that we have the players back, we’re going to get into it. The important thing is that now, we have a group to be able to do different things.”
Throughout the summer, Savarese’s lacked options in attack, so much so that he’s at times had to change his formation because of a lack of available forwards. With Chara and Mora back, that changed. He was able to shift his formation at halftime, going from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-2 because of the options he had on the field. Off the bench, he was able to bring on Diego Valeri and Sebastián Blanco. With those new attacking options, Portland was able to use Blake Bodily at left back late in the match instead of needed him further forward. Tactically, Savarese could change things up.
Still, with so many issues defining the context around Ebobisse’s goal, it feels right to Saturday’s result on two levels. There’s the emotional one, where the joy of victory can be contrasted against the need to feel something positive. The loss in Austin was a wakeup call, and after months of trying to overcome injuries and absences, it felt like the group was emotionally bottoming out. To come out of two weeks off with only a draw against Dallas wouldn’t have changed the team’s outlook. Now, the team has some momentum.
But there are also the realities of how Saturday played out. When the coaching staff breaks down video from the night’s performance, they’ll start dealing with those. Portland gave up enough good chances in the first half to, on another night, go into halftime down one or two goals. That they didn’t is part of the breaks of the game, but in terms of the team’s performance, those chances were too good to ignore.
In attack, it wasn’t until well into the second half that the Timbers began generating good chances, and although they had multiple opportunities at Maurer’s net over the night’s final half hour, Ebobisse’s was the first clear cut chance they put on target. Valeri shot over the bar with a good chance after coming on, and shortly before Ebobisse’s breakthrough, Chara pulled his one-on-one chance wide of goal. But for a team that was at home and in need of three points, the Timbers didn’t create as many chances as they would have wanted.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. There were points in the first half when Chara, his brother Diego, as well as Mora tried to make something out of nothing. In the second half, the exertion we saw from Ebobisse, Larrys Mabiala, Josecarlos Van Rankin spoke to how much the Timbers wanted three points. There was no lack of will from Portland.
There was, however, a lack of execution; at least, there was a lack of execution for 83 minutes. That Portland overcame that to earn three points gives them something to build on.