There's just no beating the Timbers in the Portland rain. The home team was right at home in the middle of an astonishing late-September monsoon in Portland, and the Timbers ground out a vital 1-0 win over the back-to-back champion LA Galaxy Sunday afternoon at Jeld-Wen Field.
For Caleb Porter, 1-0 is the new 3-3. It's a renewable brand of winning, the easiest path to three points in the beautiful game, the wet game, the physical game, or whatever kind of game is being played any given day.
You only need to unlock the door once. One individual moment of brilliance is good enough when you don't concede goals with a dominate and comfortable back-line leading the way. 1-0 is succinct and tidy. When one goal equals three points, those points amass fast.
Maxi Urruti was the man on Sunday; it was his dash of brilliance that obtained the Timbers' one. The jack-in-the-box forward has won a starting job in Portland the easiest way he knows how: work. Urruti's tireless pressure of LA's back-line forced mistake after mistake, and it was just good business on a pitch that had been subjected to more than 24 straight hours of rain.
It was a sweet reward, then, when the Energizer Bunny slipped to the front-post on a Will Johnson corner and proceeded to flick the ball of his ankle and into the net as he sped by. It was a touch of class from an Argentine – a common sight in Portland – but an entirely different brand of match-winning action than the cerebral Diego Valeri brings.
The all-action Urruti is another eminently solid move from GM Gavin Wilkinson. The Timbers' maligned former manager does his best work when he's far away from the headlines, and the fact that Portland's two best players on the day, the other being Pa Moudu Kah, were acquired for next-to-nothing midseason, is a testament to Wilkinson.
The Galaxy always seem to bring out the best in Kah, who enjoys battling with the likes of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. The Great Wall of The Gambia, comprised of Kah and Futty Danso, who was his dependable self save for a cameo as a kick and chase attacking player, boxed up the Galaxy's potent attack.
When Robbie Keane's last-gasp equalizer was ruled out – correctly – for offsides, Ireland's best ever goal-scorer reacted like a player who had been boxed up for 92 minutes only to break free for a signature goal and have it ruled out.
The irony, and fervent relief, sprung around Jeld-Wen Field.
First of all, it was mind-boggling that an MLS linesman made a marginally correct offsides call against possibly the league's best player. It is beyond rare for an attacking player to be offsides on a free-kick like the Galaxy had, and so, for all our moaning about refereeing, refereeing saved Portland two points and opened up a myriad of enticing possibilities.
All in all, it was a superbly refereed game. That's what a usually heated fixture needed, and that's what MLS needed on as big a stage as Portland – LA had Sunday. It gives you a bit of hope about the future of one of MLS' weakest components.
Set pieces have been a problem for Portland all year, in the background of failures in Seattle, Vancouver, Columbus, and Salt Lake, to name a few games. Portland's goal came on a set piece, while LA missed David Beckham's presence on their set pieces, and his uncanny passing ability in midfield.
Keane and Donovan, of all the players in MLS, have the biggest flair for the dramatic. Both have rescued their respective country with a stoppage time World Cup goal, and both seem to grow while others tire.
As Keane planted his header in the back of the net and watched the flag go up on the far side, his celebration morphed into a frantic argument against the offside call. Keane’s protestations went too far and entirely lacked class, as did those of whiner-in-chief Bruce Arena. Things would have been worrying had Keane had a knife, per se, but LA was brought to their knees. Portland remained standing.
The Timbers stood tall the entire match. Portland's team cohesion and unity – not just in the pretty combinations that the weather made impossible Sunday – is impressive and imperative to their success. These Timbers, all the way up and around the pitch, fit well together.
Caleb Porter appears to have his back four for the stretch-run – Jewsbury, Kah, Futty, and Harrington – otherwise known as Experience, Experience, Experience, and Experience. Porter named an unchanged team Sunday, and while the Timbers getting healthy was big, the Timbers not getting injured is bigger. A team has risen from the ashes of the summer.
Make no mistake: Portland can win the Western Conference with a few more 1-0 wins, and a bit of good luck. The two teams in front of Portland come to Jeld-Wen before the season is out.
LA is in the rearview mirror. Porter acknowledged midweek that his team matches up with Los Angeles well, and Portland beat LA twice at home and drew them on the road this season. Still, the fact that the Timbers are looking back at the mighty Galaxy is a staggering feat, as impressive as the rain that all but guaranteed another memorable Portland victory.