PORTLAND, Ore. – If there were any fears of a carry-over effect from Minnesota, Saturday’s result put them to rest.
Recording 23 shots, 553 passes, and 59.3 percent of the game’s possession, the Portland Timbers rekindled the form from their last performance at Providence Park – a 4-0 win two weeks ago against the LA Galaxy. While Saturday’s victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC was “only” a 3-1 result, the underlying form alleviated any concern of, after two losses in Minnesota, a prolonged swoon. Rising to first in the Cascadia Cup standings, Portland jumped back into the win column.
“Today, the performance was excellent,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said, after the match. “All around, especially in the second half, the guys were able to move the ball. They were patient. They didn’t get frustrated … Momentum, we knew when to take advantage of it.”
Addressing that momentum – keeping it from gathering further after the team’s disappointing week on the road – will be one aspect we remember from Saturday’s win, but the more prominent ones will be the bangers and the worldies, the bombs and the stunners we saw over the night’s first three goals.
If, on Saturday, you came to Providence Park for quality goals, you got your money’s worth.
Only golazos need apply
Well, perhaps not only golazos. Because as nice as Jeremy Ebobisse’s 90th-minute score was in terms of a team goal, it was somewhat straight forward compared to the three Sportscenter Top 10 candidates that came before.
Sebastián Blanco’s opener in the 28th minute is becoming a trademark of his – a long-range bomb from a distance approaching his memorable postseason goal last year in Kansas City.
Perhaps he needed a little help from Vancouver goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau for the ball to find nylon, but the degree of difficulty alone is worth our admiration. The Whitecaps paid the price for laying off Portland’s most dangerous threat from distance.
Theo Bair’s goal, however, may have been even more remarkable, if more random; or, perhaps not so random, since Montreal’s Orji Okonkwo scored a similar goal against the Timbers earlier this year. Both goals left onlookers asking what Portland could have done to stop them.
Reviewing the tape leaves two or three things which, in an ideal world, the Timbers would have done differently, but the goal was also so aberrational that, ultimately, you shake your head and move on.
Marvin Loría’s goal, however, was more exceptional than aberrational. Cutting in from the right onto his dominant foot, the Costa Rican international slotted a driven turf-burner squarely against the bottom of Crépeau’s right post, giving the Whitecaps little chance to stop what proved the night’s winning goal.
“Bangers only,” one member of the media tweeted from the press box, an assessment that held up until the match’s final moments. Normally, you’re lucky if you see one such goal. Fans at Providence Park got three of them.
Perhaps this won’t rise to the level of something we’ll remember years on, but there was something special about the celebrations after the Timbers’ second and third goals.
Loría’s began as many other “did that just happen” moments, with the 22-year-old turning and raising the name on his jersey after his second career goal. But as his teammates caught up with him, the celebration became more directed, and more personal. Players like Bill Tuiloma took time to deliver special messages one-on-one, marking a stand-out moment, while Julio Cascante locked his countryman in a bear hug, lifted him from the ground, and spent extra time to mark what, to date, is one of Loría’s best moments in Portland.
Similarly, the Timbers made it a point to honor Tomás Conechny after the final score. The Argentine attacker didn’t record the goal, but he fed a perfect pass to Ebobisse, he needed only touch it beyond Crépeau from close range to finish his season’s eighth goal. As Ebobisse ran to the field’s northeast corner to mark the match-sealing score, Conechny drifted toward the bench, where the Timbers made sure to celebrate his first career MLS assist in Portland.
With both Loría and Conechny, their teammates have seen the work. They know how much each player has strived behind the scenes over the last year-plus to claim their time on the field. That their work paid off on Saturday was something their teammates wanted to be a part of.
Cascadia Cup within reach
Vancouver’s out. With the loss, the Whitecaps are eliminated from this year’s Cascadia Cup race, destined to finish behind both the Timbers and the Sounders. The winningest team in Cup history (in terms of trophies claimed) will not add to their total this season.
Now, thanks to Saturday’s victory, the Timbers are in the driver’s seat. With six points through three games, Portland sits atop the standings ahead of August 23’s visit from Seattle. Win or draw then, and the Timbers claim their fifth Cascadia Cup. A Sounders win, and Seattle ties Vancouver’s mark of six competition triumphs.
That Friday night game could prove a huge one, too, in terms of the Western Conference playoff race. Thanks to Seattle’s Saturday draw, the Sounders are alone in second place, five points ahead of the Timbers. But the Timbers also have nine straight games ahead of them at home, and with a game in hand on their rivals, the idea of catching them, as well as the teams between the rivals in the conference standings, looks increasingly possible.
If Seattle wins on August 23, it’s hard to see Portland overtaking them. Those stakes, in addition to the Cascadia Cup’s fate, are already seeding drama around the coming matchup.