Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter challenged himself and his team after what he called a “sluggish” start that cost them a 2-0 loss at home last weekend to Orlando City SC.
And while the Timbers didn't exactly rocket out of the gate this time out, they did just enough to grab a 1-0 win on the road Sunday against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
Solid defense, a couple of timely saves from goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and a lone goal from winger Dairon Asprilla – his first in MLS – in his return to the starting 11 after three games as a substitute did the trick for Portland.
“I think first and foremost it’s a great result. It’s three points on the road," Porter told the media after the match. "I thought we defended really well and we found a goal.
"Sometimes, you’ve got to do it with just one goal and defending well. Typically, on the road, that’s how you get results and that’s how we got it."
Portland improved its record to 9-2-5 overall immediately following a loss since the 2013 season. It was also the Timbers' third clean sheet out of their last four road games dating back to the 2014 season.
It was a match that Portland gradually eased into after being forced to withstand heavy pressure early in the game from NYCFC.
Kwarasey made his first of five saves on the night when he parried away a missile from Patrick Mullins in the 16th minute. And center back Nat Borchers turned away another near NYCFC goal in the 31st minute, blocking a Mehdi Ballouchy shot off the line.
“They came at us and really attacked us,” center back Liam Ridgewell said.
But Portland started to gain footing right before halftime.
“It was, for me, it was us giving the ball away in the first 10, 15 minutes that led to them having the run of play,” Porter said. “When we started playing quicker we kept the ball better, which allowed us to move up the field and I thought we built off of that going into the second half.”
And in the second half, Portland controlled large portions of the action and found their goal in the 79th minute. Darlington Nagbe created the opportunity, making a run into the heart of the NYCFC defense, leaving off for Asprilla, whose right-footed shot took a deflection off defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe to beat ‘keeper Josh Saunders.
From there, NYCFC pressed for an equalizer and nearly found it when rookie Khiry Shelton, a former Oregon State star, was played in by Pablo Alvarez for a one-on-one with Kwarasey, who turned away the point-blank shot with a sliding save.
“That’s what a goalkeeper has to do, they have to make a couple of saves a game typically to win a game,” Porter said. “And he made a big save for us at the end. … I thought the back six especially were really tight and organized, and I thought they had a really good game.”
Ridgewell said it was a much-needed result after losing at home the previous week in a subpar performance. The three points move Portland out of the Western Conference basement with nine points from seven games, setting up an always-big matchup with Cascadian rivals the Seattle Sounders, who have 10 points from six matches, next Sunday.
“You saw everyone’s emotions at the end,” he said. “Especially after last week it was a big win for us and badly needed. And I thought we deserved it as well. It was a big game. We needed to get points.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.