Have we reached a point where a one-goal win is mundane? Surely, those around the Portland Timbers can’t already be so used to attacking dominance already, but given the team’s last month-and-a-half, who can blame anybody for high expectations? Since Brian Fernandez arrived in early May, the team’s attack has been living in a different world.
That’s why the Fernandez’s 42nd-minute goal on Sunday against FC Dallas felt like a beginning, not a conclusion. With the Timbers coming off consecutive 4-0 victories at home, the night’s opening goal seemed like the start of another lopsided performance. With Dallas pushed into their own end for most of the first half, more goals seemed sure to come.
That Dallas not only made it to full time down 1-0 but were threatening for an equalizer proved a nice reminder, though. Portland’s four-goal wins might have flashed the Timbers’ potential, but most nights are going to be like this one. Even with their new firepower, Portland’s going to have to grind out results. Sunday’s win helped the Timbers jump from 12th to ninth in the Western Conference.
“(It was) a very important three points that we needed to climb a little bit higher in the table, to continue fighting to try and get into the playoff zone,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said, after the match. “I thought that, in some moments, we were very good. We found goal the goal at the perfect time for us to continue doing the things that we were doing well …
“At some point, we got tired,” he conceded, “We started giving the ball away, and then they became dangerous. We suffered a little bit, at the end.”
The close calls at the end of Sunday’s win are unlikely to become lasting memories. Instead, What We’ll Remember is more likely to be a new league record, the defense’s new resilience, and perhaps most importantly, the best fashion display in Portland Timbers’ history.
Fernandez goes into the record book
Was there ever any doubt? With Fernandez, there never seems to be. Although it’s certainly possible he will, at some point, go an entire Major League Soccer game without scoring, it hasn’t happened yet. Him setting the record for most goals in consecutive games to start an MLS career has been less surprising than par for the course.
“To be able to accomplish something like (the record), it’s a beautiful thing, for me,” Fernandez explained. “Especially after suffering a tough spell in my career, in the past, I’ve been working very hard. So, I’m very thankful to be able to share something like this with my family, my children, my teammates, especially players like Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, (Sebastián) Blanco, Jorge (Moreira). They are great players, and I’m still learning a lot from them, so (the record) is very nice.”
To a certain extent, Dallas had success against Fernandez and the Timbers, becoming the first team to hold Portland to fewer than two goals in a game in which Portland’s new Designated Player starts. But the Hoops were unable to keep the Argentine out of the record book. MLS teams are still searching for a way to stop the league's new star.
More clean sheets at home
For the Timbers, tonight’s game was more difficult than those against the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo, but in the team’s third-straight clean sheet at home, Portland were still doing something they weren’t a month ago. Then, they were largely defending at the same level but leaving the field having allowed a goal. Six straight times before they returned to Providence Park, Portland conceded exactly once.
Tonight, Dallas had a number of clear chances on goal. There were more times when the Timbers’ emergency defending had to be tested. Through it all, though, Portland kept that “0” on the board.
“I thought the guys sacrificed,” Savarese said, when asked to assess his defense’s performance. “We had to defend with fewer numbers because we were giving the ball away in bad areas at the end, because we were tired. That’s when you know your defenders did a fantastic job.
“They didn’t score on us, and that was very important.”
There will be moments from the night that the coaching staff dissects, plays back to the team, and uses for new lessons on the training ground. But that happens after every game. The difference, this month, has been applying those lessons after clean sheets, not close calls.
The best suit in Timbers history
Fernandez wasn’t the only player to go into the record book on Sunday, even if his achievement was more official than Blanco’s. But when veteran attacker arrived tonight at Providence Park, he set a standard that may never be matched. This suit (seen above), per the memory of those who’ve been around the team for its entire MLS existence, is the most “fire” ensemble ever worn by an athlete to the park.
“One hundred percent,” team photographer Craig Mitchelldyer said, when asked about its status as the best pregame outfit in team history. Mitchelldyer’s been taking arrival shots since the team’s been doing them. “Fire” was the word that came to his mind first.
“A lot of people told me that,” Blanco said, after being complemented on his suit. “(The praise) is perfect …
“In Argentina, I can’t wear (the suit),” he said, jokingly, alluding to the pattern as controversial, “so I’m very happy I can use it here.”
Fernandez’s record probably matters most, and his goal was the difference on the scoreboard. But if we’re honest, we’ve seen Fernandez score goals before, and we’ll likely have the pleasure of seeing many more.
Nobody’s wore a suit like Sebastián Blanco’s. In terms of prematch fashion, this was a “one small step for mankind” moment. Let’s appreciate greatness in all its forms.