Comfy. It was a real comfortable one for the Portland Timbers Sunday afternoon at Jeld-Wen Field against the Colorado Rapids, a team that outshot Portland 16-6 and lost 3-0. That's what happens when you're playing a first place team that hasn't lost in over 100 days, a team that weaves players and styles and keeps getting results. Portland is really good, and they have taken their deserved place atop the Western Conference. And who knows, the Timbers might not lose again until Caleb Porter is in a retirement home.
The theme after the 3-0 Colorado cruise was improvement. If the media tried got a little carried away lauding Caleb Porter and his team in their post-match questions, Porter and his players reeled the reporters back in. They said that the Timbers don't have Porter's system down perfectly yet, they're not playing perfect games, and there is still room for growth. After all, the MLS season is only halfway over. 17 games down, 17 to go. Portland hasn't won anything yet, even though the Timbers are on top of the Western Conference table for the first time after the month of March.
Porter has to keep his team motivated. And in a sense, he's right. The Timbers mixed sluggishness with measured fatigue against the Rapids, who dominated the first 15 minutes of play, and held their own against Portland's possession machine, especially in the first half. Still, Colorado were down 2-0 at the end of the first-half, beaten through simple individual class.
Frederic Piquionne jumped out of the stadium to head home his first MLS goal, and the always-swaggering Will Johnson's second could be another MLS Goal of the Week. Portland didn't play a pretty first 45. But they sat pretty on the scoreboard. The Timbers were almost winning the game in their sleep.
In the second half, Portland got their possession game going and sucked the air out of a Colorado team lacking quality and gumption in the final third, while the Timbers tacked on a third of their own through substitute Ryan Johnson. It was an impressive win, just because Portland didn't really buzz around the field or create a ton of chances, and yet they were clinical where they needed to be.
I think Sunday was too easy for the Timbers. And that's saying something, considering this team was one of the worst in the league last October, and didn't win a single game by three goals in the 2012 season.
That's not to say Portland has it all figured out: The Timbers were on the back-foot all night against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday, and the Timbers had to fight tooth and nail for their victory over FC Dallas last weekend.
Still, this group can afford to dream big. They owe it to themselves. Portland is too good not to realize what they could achieve this season. Supporters' Shield? The Timbers should be right there, and if all goes smoothly the second half of the regular season, the Timbers should be among the favorites to win the 2013 MLS Cup.
No, no, we can't get carried away. Remember Caleb's favorite saying? "Keep your highs low and your lows high". It was repeated again in the bosses' post-game press conference, and will be repeated again and again over the coming days and months. Porter is used to coaching college kids, college kids who can easily get carried away and lose focus. But I don't see this Timbers group doing the same thing.
There are position battles all over the field. Ryan Johnson and Frederic Piquionne both scored Sunday, and both forwards bring something different to the table: Johnson is super as a hold-up player, a lone-striker who can win headers, hold the ball and set up the offense. Piquionne is a superb header of the ball, on defense and offense, a man who has learned how to lurk off the back shoulders of center-backs and poach goals from his time in the Premier League.
Big games are coming. Who wants to start? Rodney Wallace - three assists vs. Colorado - or the uber-talented Kalif Alhassan? When a letup in injuries means the Timbers' aren't forced to play center-back roulette anymore, who's going to be starting in playoff games? In US Open Cup semi-finals and final, if the Timbers get there?
Portland is putting more and more air in their team balloon. The stakes are getting higher and higher. This team is approaching 20 games without a loss. No, it's not all peaches and cream, but sit back for a moment and marvel at how far this team has come and how much potential they have to start in on filling the Timbers' trophy-case.
As the minutes ticked away in a relaxing second-half against Colorado, there was time to think about such things. Portland plays at Dallas on Wednesday in a US Open Cup semi-final. A win would put the Timbers one triumph away from winning the US Soccer's oldest competition in its 100th year of existence. Remember, this is Seattle's trophy - they won it their first three years in MLS - and I expect Porter to put out his best 11 against Dallas, a team that hasn't lost at home all season.
Porter could afford to pull Valeri and Nagbe and Piquionne early Sunday, because all of the Timbers shots on target went in. The game against Colorado, on a dreary, brooding June afternoon in the Rose City won't be remembered for long. Instead, it will blend in with many other games that make up the Timbers' armor this season.
The 2013 campaign is halfway gone. The Timbers have come a long way in just half a season - from a league laughingstock and soap opera with a toxic environment to one of the most professional, most talented best teams in the league. Sunday's 3-0 trot made you think: After the second half of this season, where will this team be?