What We’ll Remember most about the Portland Timbers’ 2-1 victory today over Toronto FC goes beyond the final score. After finally breaking into the win column last week, last year’s Western Conference Champions needed to prove their performance in Columbus wasn’t a fluke. Only then could those looking from beyond the locker room have enough proof to say the turnaround is real.
Well, the turnaround is real. With goals from Bill Tuiloma and Jeremy Ebobisse, the Timbers looked like their late 2018 selves. They proved tough to break down, only allowing six shots, while resourceful in how they created chances. A set piece conversion and a cross headed home combined with strong play in possession showed what’s starting to become, going forward, a multi-faceted approach, one that will leave BMO Field with an impressive, 2-1 victory over the Reds.
What Timbers fans will undoubtedly remember most from all of that is the feeling of having their team back. This is how it’s supposed to feel to root for this group. It’s supposed to feel like any match is winnable. It’s supposed to feel like, win, lose or draw, the Timbers can be relied upon for a good performance.
For three weeks in a row, now, Portland’s given that, and while not all of those games have produced victories, they’ve provided enough for fan’s lives to return to normal. No more worries. No more paranoia. No more doubt. At least, for now. For the first time this season, those who support the Timbers can focus on the little things, worry about marginal improvement, without fretting if their team will ever right their course.
“It feels good, for sure, especially because, this is our team,” head coach Giovanni Savarese told ROOT SPORTS, after the match. “This is the Portland Timbers that we know.”
This is what life is supposed to be like when you support a team with the Timbers’ talents. After two straight wins, the lives of those talents, as well as those that support them, can start to feel like themselves.
Here are the other things we’ll remember most about today’s result:
For the seventh time in eight games, the Timbers conceded first. It’s a pattern that, even as the team has improved, persists through these last days of April. Yet a different pattern that appears to be in the past is seeing one setback (a goal allowed) lead to more. Instead of being defined by their vulnerabilities in the wake of Toronto’s opener, Portland got proactive, dominating the moments after their allowed goal.
Within a minute of Jonathan Osario’s score, Jorge Moreira was breaking through Toronto’s defense, earning a corner kick when his shot was blocked by TFC’s Chris Mavinga. Portland’s next touches were an assist and a goal, with Diego Valeri’s cross to Tuiloma allowing the Timbers to equalize within two minutes of Toronto’s score.
“We knew they had zonal players and then they had three (man) marking,” Tuiloma explained. “I saw Larrys (Mabaila) go near post, so I waited. I waited for the right time to go, and [the cross] went just over Larrys’ head. I was there to clean it up and put it in the goal. It was crazy.”
The New Zealand international had played a part in TFC’s opener, losing Eriq Zavaleta as Toronto converted a corner of their own. Within moments, though, the 24-year-old had made amends, scoring his second-ever MLS goal.
One point becomes three
When Maverick explained to Goose at Top Gun, that, in order to continue chasing Jester, he had to go “vertical?” Sorry for the dad reference (no, I’m not), but on today’s winning goal, Jeremy Ebobisse went horizontal:
Three feet off the ground, but still horizontal.
“I just remember making a near-post run for a ball on the ground, at first,” Ebobisse remembered. “Seba (Blanco) didn’t play it, so I just recycled and tried to get to the center of the goal. By that point, Seba played a ball that he’s played to me a dozen times, already. I know, the second it came off his foot, I needed to be in the right spot to finish it.”
All of a sudden, Ebobisse is up to four goals on the year, and while there’s been a lot of debate within the Timbers fanbase about the number nine’s goal rate, it should also be remembered: This is his first full season as a starter, and he’s only 22 years old. Prorate his current numbers over 2,000 minutes (and he’s on pace for 2,508, this season) and Ebobisse scores over 13 goals.
Eight games and seven starts isn’t enough of a sample size to infer much about goal scoring. Ebobisse could be performing well above his personal, theoretical mean, or he could be performing below. It’s impossible to know. The one knowable, here, is that four goals in eight games is a rate anybody would have been happy with from the Timbers’ number nine at season’s onset. With goals in back-to-back games, “Jebo” is coming on.
More than consistency. Improvement.
It’s not only that the Timber have won two in a row. It’s that since bottoming out four games ago with a 3-0 loss at San Jose, the team has continuously improved. The close call in Dallas was progress, and the win in Columbus was the breakthrough, but today’s victory in Toronto felt like a little more. TFC had been outgunning teams this year, averaging three goals per game before Saturday’s kickoff. Today, they rarely seemed dangerous.
“(For) three weeks, the guys have stepped up the level,” Savarese said, “and today was a very difficult victory against a very good team, in a difficult stadium. The guys (gave) everything to make sure we got the win we were looking for.”
Part of Toronto’s lack of danger was the absence of Jozy Altidore, Toronto’s most prolific forward. But a large part of it was Portland’s ability to contain Alejandro Pozuelo, a player who came into the day’s game with four goals and five assists in his four MLS appearances. The Spanish creator played a beautiful ball ahead of his team’s only goal, breaking lines to earn a free kick that led to the goal-scoring corner, but aside from that, one of the league’s best players was left to rely on others.
“He is a talent player – a very good player,” Savarese said, of Pozuelo. “Time and space, we had to take it away from him. I thought our guys did a great job to make sure he didn’t have that many spaces and time to be able to play the way he plays.”
Given the potency of TFC’s attack, this was Portland’s best defensive performance of the year, and in finally taking three points in the face of an early deficit, it may have been their best offensive one, too; or, at least, the team’s most meaningful. Now with seven points in eight games, Portland is enjoying the rewards of both their newfound consistency as well as their improvement.