Frequently this year, the Timbers have cited their ability to battle and draw points back from the dead as their calling card. It rang a little hollow.
It's not like the Timbers were down a man, down a goal, running Jorge Villafana and Ben Zemanski around and chasing an equalizer with no forward when they were fighting back to get late goals against the likes of Philadelphia, Chicago, and DC United.
Well, Saturday night the Timbers dug in and gritted out a sensational 3-3 draw with two late goals drawn up in an alternative universe populated by just by captains and real, honest-to-god target forwards.
Go ahead and say it: The Timbers aren't that good. Portland has ten points in eleven games, and the only team they are above in the table have played three less games than them. Talk about how the Timbers have no clean sheets and only one win in the entire season.
Just not tonight. Not after this one. Portland could have and probably should have folded in this game. Everything was going wrong.
Alvas Powell, always a ticking time-bomb, was forced into action to cover for the injured Michael Harrington. In the 34th minute, he delivered a trademark Alvas Powell play.
Eager to get forward, Powell took touch with the finesse of a brinks truck, and for some reason he thought he could chase it down. Never mind that the ball was a good ten yards out in front of Powell with a Columbus player about five yards away, Powell tore after the ball and didn't stop until he had lifted Chad Barson into orbit.
You feel bad for the kid. But it was the least surprising, most obvious red card we've ever seen from an MLS Timbers player. Powell just isn't ready. Maybe that challenge was shocking enough to make Caleb Porter realize that.
Before Powell's mental breakdown, the game had a lively start. Maxi Urruti scored in the fifth minute off a quality pass from Steve Zakuani which the Argentine turned and riffled in. That goal was matched by a beauty from Frederico Higuain, who chipped Donovan Ricketts from 25 yards for the equalizer.
But things didn't look quite right for the Timbers. The intensity wasn't quite there. Columbus was easily playing through Portland's Diego Chara-less midfield, with both Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski's pension to dive into tackles getting the Timbers in trouble.
The Timbers' total lack of control after Urruti's early goal - which should have put the winless-since-March Crew to bed - was telltale. It was never good enough. The Powell train-wreck was the other shoe dropping.
The Timbers collected themselves and set their feet after the red card, with the goal of getting to halftime with the game intact.
Instead, in the 49th minute of the first half, Futty Danso was whistled for a penalty. His infraction - wrapping up his man on a corner kick - was indefensible. It was a penalty by the letter of the law. But because that law is so laxly enforced in those set-piece situations, it was a tough call to digest. More often than not, it's ignored.
Not this time. Not by referee Jose Carlos Rivero, who likes making wild motions with his hands.
He pointed to the spot. Higuain - who missed a penalty against the Timbers in Columbus last year - converted with panache. So all of the sudden, the Timbers faced a second half chasing a goal with ten men and no forward.
Coupled with a mostly listless first half performance, it was a hopeless situation.
But instead of putting the game away, Columbus let the Timbers back in it. Portland took a little momentum, and took control.
It was a situation made for Will Johnson and his maniacally competitive way. He tore around the field with such intensity that he almost made up for the man deficit himself.
The Timbers took after their captain. And in the 80th minute, their reward was a goal that will be shown on highlight reels for years to come.
Jewsbury chested the ball into the area, but he was never going to beat two Columbus defenders on the run. A Crew defender took the ball, but Jewsbury somehow nicked it to Will Johnson, on a familiar late run into the area. As Jewsbury was catapulted into the air, Johnson fired it in.
No two players deserved it more. The only two captains in club history - one loud, bombastic, and brutally honest; the other quiet, heady, and comforting.
Johnson led from the front. But it was Jewsbury's goal. What he did was the equivalent of taking the ball coast to coast, only to lose it out of bounds, them steal the inbounds pass and feed a teammate for a dunk.
You simply cannot say enough about Jewsbury's heart. He was composed in every moment of the game expect the one when his team needed reckless wild courage and sacrifice to make something magical happen. He had that covered too.
Jewsbury has gotten better every week at left-back. He had to switch sides again today in defense, and it was again a seamless transition. Captain Jack is the Timbers. From day one in 2011. He's still the Timbers today.
Unfortunately, Jewsbury isn't a central defender. The euphoria of the goal was erased less than a minute later, when a deflected shot hit Futty and flew past Donovan Ricketts to give the Crew a 3-2 lead.
It was bemusing. Funny, almost. What else could happen?
A lot. A minute later, Fanendo Adi came on for Jorge Villifana to make his Timbers debut and give the team their first true #9 of 2014.
And a minute after that, the Timbers had a free-kick which Diego Valeri pumped into the area towards Adi. The Copenhagen man won the header because that's what a 6'4 target-forward does in the box. He headed it down onto the back post for Gaston Fernandez to slide in and make it 3-3.
That's how it ended - though it needs to be mentioned that Jack Jewsbury was inexplicably called offside on the last kick of the game when he was in with a chance to win it.
At full-time, the Timbers Army didn't know whether to cheer the team or boo the referees. Confusing match, this one. How could a team look so much better with ten men than eleven?
Will Johnson rode the roller-coaster. His head almost came detached from his body with the intensity of his goal celebration, but he was beside himself in his post match interview.
The quote was, "Heart of a lion, head of a goldfish."
The lasting sentiment from the TV interview was, get this guy off the air before he loses control and catapults in a string of expletives.
There was a lot of good. Ben Zemanski played his tail off. Gaston Fernandez's ability to poach and natural quality on the ball made an immediate impact off the bench. Speaking of immediate impacts - Adi's size made everyone on the field in green giddy. All of the sudden, the Timbers had an ariel attack.
Portland had a lot of great moments in this game, but one of the sweetest was when Steve Clark almost got sent off for trying to waste away the final seconds of the match even though he was on the team with the man advantage. By the time the whistle went, Columbus were happy to walk out of the fire with one point.
As for the defense, I think if Porter had real confidence in Norberto Paparatto, he would have started tonight. From Porter's post-game comments, it doesn't appear that Futty is going to be thrown under the bus. To be fair, neither Futty nor Kah was that bad. But the statistics Porter loves tell a bleak story.
In any case, the decision to callously cut Mikael Silvestre looks dumber and dumber with each passing minute.
What happens from here is anyone's guess. The Timbers probably didn't save their season Saturday night. But they definitely didn't lose it either.
Portland is a hot mess. They may be the best worst team in MLS. Against Columbus, they were certainly the gutsiest.