Ah, the mighty PTFC have come a long way. In the early days of the Portland Timbers' MLS journey, John Spencer's teams threw away late leads like candy-wrappers; Gavin Wilkinson's interim abomination was closer to the USL than the playoffs; and early in Caleb Porter's reign, Portland were a high-flying bunch that needed to score and score and score to have any chance of picking up three points.
Remember Porter's first game in charge, a 3-3 draw with the New York Red Bulls that redefined scintillation? It seemed like the Timbers could score on every attack, but they also had the ability to capitulate with ghastly defensive lapses just as easily. The game could have had ten goals.
Nowadays, the ship has been tightened. Porterball has evolved, and for the first time, the Timbers matter in the the fall.
Mr. Porter, who has perfected the art of entering Jeld-Wen Field like a mob boss, wearing a thousand-dollar suit and a million-dollar stare while leading a group of men in track suits to the Portland bench, always maintained that the Timbers would never be able to sustain the high-scoring games of March and April, and perhaps that's part of the reason he expressed his dislike for the "Porterball" term. Porter knew that the Timbers would have to lock things down and win ugly to pick up meaningful points in a playoff race.
It was Portland 1, Colorado 0 Friday night. The game was tight and taught, ugly and direct. It was the kind of game the Timbers would never have been able to win even three months ago. But they looked right at home fighting tooth and nail with the scrappy Rapids for 90+ minutes, in a game that felt like one long drawn-out 50-50 ball.
The Timbers didn't have their best stuff, in fact, Portland played one of their worst attacking home games of the year. This was due in large part to Colorado, who are planets away from the side that were dismantled 3-0 by the Timbers on a dreary June day at the start of summer.
It was as strikingly easy for the Timbers in that game as it was difficult for Portland in this game. The Rapids played with purpose and intent, and the Timbers were never allowed to settle into a passing rhythm, or take control of possession.
But for all their gumption, Colorado were never really allowed a clear-cut chance. I'm certainly not the biggest Pa Kah supporter, but he was immense, as was the returned Futty Danso, who may just be the most underrated Timber for his composure and feel for the game.
After the game, Porter underlined his selection of an immensely experienced Portland back-line, and it was telling that one of the Timbers' best defensive performances of the year came with the likes of Futty and Jack Jewsbury involved, rather than Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Alvas Powell.
You always felt one goal was enough for Portland, and when was the last time we could say that?
That one goal was the kind of goal that would deserve to win any game. Diego Valeri's delicious running chip over Clint Irwin was a master-class goal, possibly Valeri's best of the season, and certainly his most important. Individual brilliance is most often the difference when things are tight. Valeri is brilliant. Valeri was the difference.
The 1-0 victory vaulted Portland past Colorado and LA, and into third in the tightly-packed Western Conference. A quick glance at the remaining schedule (LA, @ Vancouver, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, and @ Chivas USA), is enough to make you giddy.
That was a beautifully ugly 1-0 win, and it gave the Timbers more confidence than they possibly could have generated from another 4-0 thrashing like the one they gave to Toronto. Everyone played their part, including new signing Maxi Urruti, who never really got into the game, but helped create Portland’s goal with relentless pressure of Colorado’s back-four.
Plus, the Timbers are getting healthy. This is a team that is almost at full-strength, with David Horst and Frederic Piquionne playing in the reserve game Saturday, and even fitness pipe-dream Mikael Silvestre back to running and rehabbing with no brace. The Timbers are ending the season on the upswing.
Portland's playoff destiny is in their own hands. They can finish above fourth and play themselves out of the wild-card game, and at the very least, finish fourth and guarantee a first playoff home game. That is no more than the Timbers' fantastic fans deserve.
If Portland can continue to grind out 1-0 victories, this team is in the playoffs on the run. Three of the Timbers' remaining five come at home, and even though those three games are the three most important games in club history, it's hard to bet against the Timbers at Jeld-Wen. In fact, with the way they beat Colorado, it's hard to bet against Portland at all right now.