It’s been a decent weekend in Portland, no?
After a thrilling, rainy night at Providence Park, we can cheekily say that Damian Lillard and Maximiliano Urruti are one in the same.
It took nine tries, but the Timbers finally have their first win of 2014. It required goals in the first minute, the last minute and from a center-back. It took an overturned penalty, the jarring set-piece defending, two equalizers, a little spirit, a major gamble, and a perfect knee-shot. It took a little magic. This game had it all.
What was the gamble?
With ten minutes to go, DC United had taken control of the match. Save for a few counter-attacking opportunities, Portland were pushed back to defend. The score was tied 2-2.
Caleb Porter knew he needed to win. So he threw on Urruti for Jack Jewsbury, and went to a back three with his team on the playing defense and the game on the line. It was a gutsy call. If the Timbers got caught out, they were done.
The whole performance was what we had been dying to see from the Timbers: A start-to-finish display of urgent, attacking soccer. No tomorrow. Win today.
Diego Chara was the only guy back on the corner that eventually led to the game-winning goal in stoppage time. Even Michael Harrington was in the box.
It was Chara who the ball fell to, and Chara who turned it wide for the masterful Diego Valeri, and Valeri who’s perfect cross hit Urruti at the front post.
On the first time of asking, Urruti powered the ball at Bill Hamid with his knee. On the rebound, he rifled it in with his instep.
Jackpot. Sometimes, you make your own luck. There was nothing restrained about this game. The explosion of emotion from Will Johnson at the full-time whistle said that the Timbers won a lot more than three points last night.
The drain of disappointing, game after game, week after week makes the job harder. The pictures of Pa Kah and Futty Danso draining Donovan Ricketts in the Gambian flag at full-time make it easier.
Of course, it could have been a different story, had Urruti not scored with the last meaningful kick. It’s a game of inches, one that finally went the Timbers’ way Saturday night.
Throughout, the game was reminiscent of the enthralling 4-4 derby match against Seattle, with just a little air taken out of it. In that game, there was a goal two minutes in, and four before halftime.
In this game, Gaston Fernandez opened the scoring after 34 seconds with the fastest goal in club history, and it was 2-1 Portland at the break.
After mere seconds, Darlington Nagbe nicked the ball of Cristian in midfield, skirted a defender and played Valeri in down the wing. Valeri’s inch-perfect cross hit Fernandez, who chipped the ball up to himself and contorted it in.
It was an incredibly instinctual finish from Fernandez, who has clearly eased into MLS after a rocky first two months. The audacity and composure to caress the ball up to himself four yards from goal to put in smacked of a player who has found his confidence.
DC United were no slouches, but they just didn’t have the cutting edge seen from great teams. Certainly, they missed Eddie Johnson, who would have had a feast with the Timbers’ diabolical set-piece defense, but DC did get a few lucky bounces to stay in the match.
After a period of back-and-forth play, Davy Arnaud’s 35-yard drive took a crazy deflection of Chara and looped in past a wrong-footed Donovan Ricketts.
While DC was statistically about even with Portland, they didn’t have a player the caliber of Diego Valeri to unlock Portland’s defense.
It’s no coincidence that Portland’s only multi-goal game of the season was also Valeri’s best game of the season going into this match.
Overall, Valeri hasn’t been right this year. But he said he felt better than he had in weeks going into Saturday night, and it should. He was brilliant. The game-winning cross was simply the cherry on top – he had assists on the Timbers’ other two goals.
Valeri’s second assist was a superb corner which was finished by the old college forward, Futty Danso, whose knack for scoring goals hasn’t wavered in six years with the Timbers.
As the game settled into a semi-soporific period in the second half, one major weakness was always going to undo the Timbers.
After Portland’s early goal came a stretch where DC almost scored on three straight corners. The last one saw Perry Kitchen plant a header off Ricketts’ crossbar. Portland were always going to concede on a corner, it was just a matter of time.
It was unlucky for Futty, who redirected Cristian’s header past Ricketts, but it was coming. All to set up Urruti’s winner at the death, which has brought about a new beginning for the Timbers’ 2014 season.
While Urruti will grab the headlines, he probably slid further away from reclaiming his starting spot because of a terrific performance from Fernandez. Not only did he score early, but the Timbers’ attacking interplay finally worked as it should.
Fernandez, who was very effective in dropping back in the midfield and picking up the ball, was replaced up top by Valeri and Steve Zakuani at times, as the Timbers front four played like a cohesive unit for the first time all year.
Fernandez has obviously played his way back into the picture, as has Jack Jewsbury, who played his best ever game as a defender. He had a spotless performance.
After Porter made his move, things could have gone either way. But Portland came on strong. From the moment Urruti entered, DC didn’t have another attacking possession in the Timbers’ final third.
And in the end, Portland deservedly got their win.