There is a single, clear thing those around the Portland Timbers will remember from today’s match. After all, when you enter a game 0-5-1 on the season, there is one goal – literally, a “1” – that rests closest to everyone’s soul. Each moment that “0” sits in the team’s win column promotes more doubt. Each game the team carried that mark into a match becomes a great burden.
Today, that burden is gone. More work has to be done for the Timbers to reach their desired level. They only have four points from seven games, thus far. But instead of going into next week’s preparation trying to manufacture hope, hope has arrived with the score.
“Thank God, today things worked out our way,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said, after the match. “But they couldn’t have worked out our way without discipline and spirit. The guys were great. They fought.”
The Timbers defeated Columbus Crew SC, 3-1, on Saturday, and while the line on the schedule will, in time, portray this as just another regular-season game, right now, the victory feels like more than one result.
Here’s What We’ll Remember from Portland’s victory in Ohio:
The feeling of stability throughout the first half was already a move in the right direction, with the team, for only the second time this season, making it past the 16th minute without allowing a goal. Today, not only did the Timbers make it all the way through the first half without conceding, but for the first time this season, they claimed the opening goal, with Larrys Mabiala’s 31st-minute conversion besting the Crew at a part of the game (set pieces) Columbus has dominated all season.
“(The first goal was) important,” Savarese said, his tone practically adding a ‘very’ before the assessing word. “Because you feel empowered. You feel that what you’re doing is working. You feel a reward.”
But perhaps the biggest indication that Saturday was going to be different came four minutes later, when the Timbers flipped a theme that’d plagued them over their first six results. Three times, this season, Portland has been unable to survive the initial minutes after allowing a goal, conceding in a second quickly at Los Angeles FC, FC Cincinnati and the San Jose Earthquakes. Today, it was the Timbers that did the quick doubling up, with Jeremy Ebobisse converting from close range with the game-winning goal.
It was the type of performance we saw from the Timbers last year, during those moments they were in their grooves. Early in the season, when they were on their 15-game unbeaten run and again late in the season, when they surged to MLS Cup. It was the type of resourceful, flexible performance that became the team’s calling card. It wasn’t the exception. It was the expectation.
The team has a long way to go to reestablish that level as its baseline, but for the first time this season, the Timbers have taken a huge step forward.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of doubt, most of which came after the Columbus goal – something made possible by a mistake from Jeff Attinella. So many times this season, Attinella’s had to to cover for his teammates. Tonight, it was his teammates’ turn to pick him up.
Moment after moment over the last 20 minutes, the Crew came close on set pieces, found room to send runners through channels, or made their way to the byline with the threat of playing dangerous crosses. But whereas those moments, over the first six games, were met by more errors, tonight, the individual defending in the team’s most vulnerable moments was stellar. Instead of mistakes being met by mistakes, mistakes were met by solution.
“There were moments at which we had to do emergency defending,” Savarese confessed, “but overall, it was a very good game. The team worked hard. They were very disciplined, tactically. They gave us everything that we needed.”
Then, the reward came, arriving in the form of a first Timbers’ goal from the team’s latest arrival. Finishing left-to-right play that went through Sebastián Blanco and Cristhian Paredes, Jorge Moreira sealed the team’s first victory of the season. There were still four minutes left to play, but just into added time, Portland got their assurance.
One point in six games left the team with so many bottom lines. Progress was a must, as was allowing fewer goals. But the bigger bottom line was in that burden the team would carry with them from game to game, until the result finally came. Portland needed a win, as soon as possible.
That will be the biggest memory from today’s match: a victory that took so long to come. But what should also be remembered was quality of the performance, one that left the win as convincing as it was needed. This wasn’t an underdog getting breaks to finally land in the win column. The Timbers thoroughly deserved this result.