The Portland Timbers’ busiest stretch of 2019 started with one of the campaign’s biggest wins, a 1-0 victory at Yankee Stadium that handed New York City FC their second defeat of the season.
The Timbers became the first team to win in the Bronx this year, the first team to hold NYCFC scoreless since April 6, and the first team to hand Domènec Torrent’s team a loss since the fourth game of his team’s season. NYCFC also had the best points-per-game rate in MLS’ Eastern Conference coming into the match, and were 9-0-5 in their last 14 games, in all competitions. Yet thanks to a first-half goal from Sebastián Blanco, a Timbers team whose starting XI reflected mid-week commitments will take three points back to the west coast.
This was the best-case scenario heading into a Wednesday, U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal at Los Angeles FC – a game guaranteed to be played with a derby’s intensity (7:30pm PT, ESPN+). Instead of looking at Sunday’s game as a sacrifice, Portland’s win leaves the start to five games in 15 days as a chance to build momentum.
Diego Chara didn’t start, nor did his midfield partner, Cristhian Paredes. Jeremy Ebobisse was on the bench, as were Jorge Moreira and Julio Cascante, yet Portland didn’t miss a beat. No matter who Giovanni Savarese selected for his team’s XI, this is how a win in the Bronx was likely to look. Called on to step up, players like Dairon Asprilla, Claude Dielna, Marco Farfan, Andrés Flores and Renzo Zambrano executed.
Perhaps we’ll remember the rotation when, months and years from now, we think back on this match, but Savarese incorporates new players enough to make today’s selection interesting, if unremarkable. It’s one of those selections in particular, though, that may prove What We’ll Remember most.
They won without Chara! Kind of.
Consider this piece of trivia thrown out the window, as I was reminded by a trusted local source. According to OregonLive.com’s Jamie Goldberg, the Timbers had gone 22 MLS games without victory when Chara was absent from the starting lineup. Though the specter around this stat might have been fully quelled had he not come on, there was some comfort in making it to the 76th-minute with a lead before Chara subbed in.
With his team only up one, you can’t blame Savarese for bringing on his best central midfielder. Still, the first 76 minutes were a reminder of how weird The Chara Streak has been. So many games, before, had played out like this one – tight, on the verge of swinging in either direction – with the Timbers never getting into the win column.
The record was always a frustrating combination of significance and luck. Perhaps on Sunday, the Chara-less Timbers finally got a little bit more of the latter.
The five-yellow-card burst
This wouldn’t be so hilarious if it mattered, and with Zarek Valentin’s yellow, things could have definitely been worse. As is, we’re left with a funny, insignificant factoid. Remember that one time the Timbers took five yellow cards in 13 minutes? Five years from now, you’ll get double points on trivia night if you know both names and order.
The cozy confines
Every soccer game is a fingerprint, a snowflake – the pattern in the bulb of a rose. With Yankee Stadium, though, it feels slightly less so. On the smallest field in MLS – what has to be, it feels, the smallest field in high-level soccer – the games take on a frightening similar feel. Maybe the number of goals change, but the cigar-box games in the Bronx always make you think there are too many players on the field.
Portland dealt with it well, with Savarese picking a team full of players capable of executing in tight spaces. That the team got the first goal helped, with the presence of Larrys Mabiala and Steve Clark’s ability to read the game crucial to the clean sheet. If NYCFC chanced on the first goal, perhaps Maxime Chanot would have been the game’s Mabiala, and Brad Stuver its Clark.
Maybe that’s part of the reason Yankee Stadium shouldn’t be on this list: that all the games blend together, leaving few of them memorable. But NYCFC was still 4-0-4 at home coming into this game. That the Timbers turned that 0 into 1 might linger in our thoughts.