PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers’ three-game losing streak is over, the team is one step closer to the playoffs, but thanks to a spectacular second-half goal from Dairon Asprilla, the team’s Wednesday night turnaround will share headlines with the ongoing breakout of one of its longest-tenured players.
With a goal before halftime from Diego Chara and an second-half insurance tally from Asprilla, the Timbers defeated the San Jose Earthquakes, 2-0, at Providence Park, but to think of Asprilla’s goal as merely an insurance tally is both an understatement and disservice.
I mean, look at it:
"I thought a lot about my dad when I scored that goal," Asprilla said postgame. Throughout the year, he has celebrated his goals by revealing a shirt honoring his recently-passed father.
"I remember I [scored] a similar goal with T2," he said. "With all the adversity and how hard last year, 2020 was, I think that it gave me strength to score a goal like that."
Back to Asprilla in a minute. In a team sport, it’s only fair to contextualize things with the team result.
Portland entered the night having lost three games in a row, a streak that culminated with this weekend’s shutout loss at the Colorado Rapids. Thanks to results around Major League Soccer, though, the Timbers were able to maintain fourth place in the Western Conference, even though LA Galaxy had matched their point total.
Now, after Wednesday’s victory, the Timbers have a two-point lead over fifth place Vancouver, restoring some margin when it come preserving a home game for the first round of MLS’s playoffs.
"The most important thing about today is how well, how composed, how clinical, we were to be able to come out, playing through the lines," head coach Giovanni Savarese said. "We found two very good goals that gave us a very strong win.”
Beyond those implications was the team’s actual improvement. Whereas the Timbers’ defending came into question over the previous three games, with Portland giving up seven goals over that time, the team kept a clean sheet against the Earthquakes. Plus, coming off a match in Colorado where they had trouble generating chances, the Timbers created enough opportunities to make 2-0 feel like a forgiving result.
"Winning tonight gives us a lot of confidence, and we really needed that," Asprilla conceded. "I know that we’re going to keep working hard, and we’re going to give our best in the next two matches ...”
This has become the Timbers’ modus operandi: slump, then rebound. Resoundingly. A two-goal win at home over the Earthquakes doesn’t seem like something remarkable, but given the number of saves `Quakes goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski was tasked with making, Portland’s prowess went beyond the score. The team put 13 shots on target, had 23 overall, and according to MLSSoccer.com’s preliminary measure, generated 3.6 expected goals.
Portland rebounded like this, too, after their last big slump, earning a 2-0, August 29 win at Seattle that ended a stretch of one win in seven. The Timbers went on to win six of the next seven. On Wednesday, they were again at a low point, but they responded with a reminder of the team’s potential.
"We found more spaces to move forward, and that’s when we found those moments that I spoke about in which, if we were a little bit more clinical, we could have found a little bit better solutions and some more goals," Savarese said. "I think the most important part, besides the fact that we found those spaces going forward when they opened themselves more, is how much work we did defensively to make sure that we managed those moments, those players coming forward with a lot of mobility, with a lot of energy."
Then there’s Asprilla. Over seven previous seasons in Portland, the 29-year-old Colombian had scored seven MLS regular-season goals. Tonight’s bicycle kick lifted his 2021 total to 10, and after his celebration, there should be some consideration to a new Providence Park tradition. If a Timber scores his 10th goal of a season in Goose Hollow, he should be allowed to climb the log.
They call him Mr. October because his peaks used to come in the postseason. This year, Asprilla’s best has been evident since the preseason. He has established himself as a regular starter, been one of the league’s most productive wingers, and has added a remarkable chapter to his Portland career. Before the season, he was seen as a valuable bench piece. Now, he’s a regular in the lineup.
"Asprilla has been having a very good year because, we have said it many times, he has matured, he’s working, he’s giving us what we need and he’s been very constant, not only in the work he has put in and being important as a player to give us so many different things," Savarese said. "But especially, as I said before, he’s been prolific in scoring goals.
"The goal today, that could be a goal of the year. He’s tried it a few times in practice, and finally he pulled it off in this game.”
Wednesday’s goal ended up on SportsCenter. It caught fire on social media. It gave Asprilla and fans a payoff for the times he’s tried his bicycle kicks before, and it gave the player a clear, round number that elevates his 2021 turnaround.
He has scored 10 goals this year. There are three games left in the season, and his most productive time, the playoffs, is still to come. Who could have known 2021 was going to be the year of Dairon Asprilla?