The Timbers are racking up a mountain of positive statistics, but a lot of what’s going on isn’t caught by the numbers. This past Saturday they won by a slim 1-0 margin, but the victory was big. First of all, it was over first-placed FC Dallas, and narrowed the margin between the teams to just two points in the Western Conference table. It’s the Timber’s 13th consecutive game unbeaten, which is the longest stretch in the MLS this season, and for head coach Caleb Porter it ties the record for a debut coach in the MLS. They’ve now gone 480 minutes without conceding a goal at home, which is extraordinary. While 8 draws in 15 games played isn’t ideal, they lead the league in goals scored, and you get the feeling with time they will be scoring more. Of course when compared to their shambolic last season, it’s pretty excellent.
It was a phenomenal game for both keepers:; the scoreline could have easily been much higher without anyone pointing a finger at them. Instead, they both went full-stretch and time after time improbably kept the ball out of the net. Donovan Rickett’s tally of seven saves, while large, doesn’t have the excellent ring it should. Goalkeeping performances like this raise the quality and particular texture of the game. When both teams attack, and both keepers are in such great form, spectators enjoy great second halves. The ball seems to move according to a set of rules more complicated than the purely physical; sometimes in great matches you get the sense that the action has been plotted out. When a goal is finally scored, it’s fate, not just feet, at work.
Darlington Nagbe’s strike had a dose of fate to it. He found the tiniest bit of space and while still marked closely managed a blind shot into the far side of the net. Raul Fernandez, Dallas’ keeper, who’d been altogether outstanding, barely moved. There was nothing to be done but let it go in. It was a moment of genius, and lucky for Nagbe, his mother was in attendance. After the game, he ranked it as the best of his career, and I imagine it’s one he will remember for a long time. It was well-deserved not just for the technique of its execution, but for all the work Nagbe had put in leading up to it. He was the Timber’s most potent attacking threat, causing trouble throughout the first half, and after the goal, nearly setting up Diego Chara with a beautiful short chip over the defense.
The moments of excellence are adding up, and as they do, so do the corresponding statistics. The team is rapidly growing in stature outside of the Pacific Northwest. General-readership behemoth USA Today is reporting on the team and its passionate support. Talk to a soccer fan from another part of the country, and chances are you’ll hear them say “I really want to go to a Timbers game,” no partisan boosterism required. Games like this past weekend’s are adding fuel to the fire: people enjoy likable teams, but they love likable teams that win. This is only the Timbers’ third year in the league.
Good things await.