The Portland Timbers charged into second place in the Western Conference by defeating FC Dallas at Providence Park on Saturday, but the match also saw them lose both of their starting center backs within the first 60 minutes of the match.
Liam Ridgewell was subbed out in the 26th minute with what was initially reported as a quadricep injury, and fellow center back Roy Miller was pulled in the 60th minute after falling prey to injuries sustained in a nasty collision with Dallas’ Max Urruti in the first half.
After the match, coach Caleb Porter said, “I’ve never in my managerial career lost two center backs in the same match. That says everything about our depth and how bought in this team is. You want to find out if a team’s bought in, look at the guys that come in off the bench.”
Amobi Okugo replaced Ridgewell, and although listed as a midfielder on the roster, took over the center back duties for the squad. Ben Zemanski, also a midfielder, came in for Miller, shifting Lawrence Olum from the midfield to Miller’s spot in the back. The change worked and the patchwork lineup not only held up against a dangerous FC Dallas attack, but kept them off the scoresheet completely.
Holding Dallas scoreless, even when they are on the road, is no easy task. They have been one of the most prolific attacking teams in the league over the past several seasons. Last year they won both the US Open Cup and the Supporter’s Shield, but lost to the Seattle Sounders in the Conference Semifinals, ending a fantastic year that had them looking like potential MLS Cup champs until their star forward, Mauro Diaz, tore his Achilles tendon in the final match of the season. Diaz was subbed in late against Portland, having recently returned to the lineup, but did not have a dynamic impact on the match, having yet to reach full form, which has been expected.
Dallas nearly struck first in the 22nd minute, when goalkeeper Jake Gleeson made a point blank save a yard from the goal line, only to have the shot ricochet past him and towards the net. A heroic effort by Zarek Valentin to clear the ball off the line saved the Timbers from going down a goal early in the match, and helped preserve the clean sheet.
In the absence of Darlington Nagbe (away with the USMNT to face off against Mexico in a World Cup Qualifier) Dairon Asprilla put in an exceptional showing on both sides of the ball. Asprilla set up Adi on the second of his two goals, and nearly connected with Valeri in the 76th minute for what would have been the third goal of the game for the Timbers.
The most exciting moment of the match was a goal that wouldn’t be. In the 70th minute, Valentin sent a cross in to Valeri at the top of the box. Valeri controlled the ball on this thigh with his first touch, then chipped it out of the air over himself and the defender, turning to strike a volley into the far post side netting. The goal was called back, however. The ball did seem to touch Valeri’s arm, but obviously there was no ill intent on the part of Valeri, in fact the touch did more harm than good, and Valeri showed his MVP quality by getting the strike off at all, much less finding the back of the net.
This was the team’s second meeting of the year with Dallas, the first coming back on April 29, a 2-2 draw in Frisco, TX. A win and a draw against a top conference rival has to sit well in the Timbers locker room, especially after displaying the depth they showed on defense this past weekend. Neither Ridgewell nor Miller’s injuries seemed serious, but with a compact schedule against quality opponents right around the corner, the depth of the team will certainly continue to be tested.