Before last night Portland had not had a complete game, one where both the offense and the defense clicked. Last night the offense showcased the style Porter has been known for at Akron and the defense was a team effort. Even when injuries forced Porter to make two changes 25 minutes into the game the team continued to get stronger as the game went on.
Last night the Portland Timbers were like a steam engine; the fire was started within but it took a little while for that energy to transfer from the broiler to the wheels. While Portland was spinning their wheels the Houston Dynamo wanted to take the game to Portland and put them on their heels in the early going.
After the initial feeling out period between the two teams Portland had to reset mentally because of an injury to David Horst. While tracking back on a long ball from Ricardo Clark behind the defense to Giles Barnes, David Horst got caught in an awkward position when planting his foot and he went down in a heap. You could see both Barnes and Donovan Ricketts immediately signal for the trainer to come out and when players do that it is never a good sign. Horst suffered a knee injury and the rumor is that it might be an MCL tare.
After Horst's injury Houston Portland looked a little out of sorts but they slowly started to find a rhythm. However, once again an injury derailed them. This injury came less than 10 minutes after David Horst's. While going up for a header Diego Valeri took a hard elbow to the cheek and it split open the skin just under his eye. It really looked like Jermaine Taylor put up his elbow and then moved it back towards Valeri. Of course Salazar decided it was nothing and only warranted a foul. Caleb Porter vehemently disagreed with the decision and expressed his displeasure to any official who was close.
Kalif Alhassan had to come on in place of Valeri, and because of the change in formation and roles Portland had to hit the reset button. Houston took advantage of Portland's confusion and had their best offensive spell of the night. They were able to create two solid chances over the next 10 minutes. In the 31st minute Andrew Driver hit a cross to the six yard box that caught Andrew Jean Baptiste off guard and it was able to get past him to the foot of Cam Weaver. Weaver's shot lacked the quality needed and he skied it over the cross bar. Three minutes after that shot saw Brad Davis take a shot but it was right at Donovan Ricketts for the easy save.
After weathering a minor rough patch Portland put the injuries behind them and shored up the defense and started to look for their offense. The first half ended with the Timbers having recorded only one shot on the night, but halftime also afforded them a chance to make some changes.
Caleb Porter did not use his final sub at half but what he did do changed the course of the game. After Valeri's injury Darlington Nagbe moved into Valeri's role in the middle of the field. Nagbe did his best but he really dropped deep on occasion and it lead to an inability to go from the middle third of the field to the final third. All of this meant there was a lack of goal scoring opportunities for Portland in the first half.
To help Portland create more opportunities Porter pushed Nagbe from the CAM position to more of a Second Striker. Nagbe played alongside Ryan Johnson rather than behind him. This subtle change in Nagbe's role was exactly what the team needed. While the change was made at half it did not start to bear fruit until 10 minutes into the half.
In the first 10 minutes Ricketts did try to give Timber fans a collective heart attack, when a routine back pass he decided to cut the ball back to the PK spot and let Barnes fly by him. His touch, however, was heavy and put the ball almost to the top of the 18 where he again had to juke another Dynamo player and this time it carried him 5 yards outside of the box. Once he got to that position he cleared the ball up the field and somehow his ball created a cross that Houston had to clear away.
The 55th minute was the breakthrough the Timbers and their fans had been waiting for all season. Up until the 55th minute the Timbers had not had a lead in any game but it all changed because of some great combination play in the midfield and a perfect cross from Diego Chara. The scoring possession actually started at the 53:36 mark of the second half.
Kalif Alhassan tracked back to poke the ball away from a Houston player and he played it all the way back to Ricketts and from that point on Portland did not lose possession until Houston had to kick it off. The ball went around the back and down the flanks before Jack Jewsbury initiated the final sequence by playing the ball up to Diego Chara, who played a wall pass with Nagbe. The pass beat three Houston defenders and played Chara behind the Houston defense on the wings.
Chara dribbled to towards the end line and when he was about even with the top of the 18 yard box he hit a curling cross into the box. It was such a perfect cross that it curled just past Ryan Johnson's and right into his path. Despite Ryan's placement, right at the feet of Tally Hall, the ball bounced off of Hall and into the side netting for Portland's first lead of the season. The ball went into the back of the net at the 54:44 mark and the Timbers passed the ball at least 20 times (I lost count after 18).
Through the first 4 games of the season the Timbers have shown how well they can play when they are behind. This game the Timbers showed just how difficult of a team they are when they have the lead. When a team gets behind against the Timbers they need to commit players forward and when they do, it opens up holes in the midfield.
The holes were filled by Kalif, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace, especially after Houston lost the ball. To make it even harder for Houston, Portland was able to press the Dynamo high up the field and force long balls over their midfield players which were easily won by Mikael Silvestre and the rest of the back line. The second ball was then scooped up by Will Johnson or Chara and they were able to find the aforementioned players behind Houston's midfielders and in front of their defenders.
Over and over again Portland would clean up the long ball and almost immediately create a goal scoring opportunity. It was exactly what Porterball was supposed to look like and it is a big reason why the first goal is such a key to Porter's system. Once Portland gets the lead they can tighten the screws defensively and punish teams for trying to get numbers forward.
Portland could have had two or three goals after their first and one of them would have won goal of the week. Wallace hit a rocket of a right footed shot that hit the cross bar, bounced down and would have gone in if it wasn't for the fact that it hit the post and bounced back into play. Other half chances were created but Portland wasn't able to capitalize on those either.
In the 73rd minute Portland was rewarded with their second goal of the night. Houston had committed numbers forward but when they were unable to break Portland down, Nagbe tracked back and stole the ball and was able to start the counter. After a few quick passes Nagbe received the ball in the center circle 10 yards in front of the Houston back line and he hit a perfect through ball to Ryan Johnson on the left hand side of the field.
Johnson, behind the defense now, took the ball right into the box and hit a great shot just over Tally Hall and into the back of the net for his second of the night. Just like the first goal was a good example of the new style Portland will play, this one too was a good example of how that style will create goals when Portland has the lead. Portland didn't stop attacking after the second goal, unlike what we might have seen in seasons past.
Portland continued to make play the same style they had been playing all game and to find the holes in Houston's defense and that created chances after Ryan's second goal. The chances may not have netted Portland their third goal it did keep Houston from creating any dangerous chances of their own.
What a game it was. It was everything we, the fans, hoped this team could be like under Caleb Porter.
- Love the fact that we did not need the Rally Nachos tonight! However a new food superstition may have been born, the Go Ahead Sundae...
- Playing with a lead looks like it does wonders for this team
- CP is right, this team is new and it will take time for them to completely gel. When they can consistently play like they did tonight this league might be in trouble.
- The Rodney Wallace we saw tonight is the Rodney Wallace Costa Rica sees often and that is a great thing
- Jewsbury at RB was a great move by CP. He was the veteran Portland has needed back there tonight
- Silvestre in the line-up changes the whole dynamic in the back. As CP put it he is class.
- KAH looked engaged and ready to play tonight. Great to see that even when he comes off the bench.
- Ricketts was good tonight and there was nothing to complain about, which is always a great thing.
- Salazar was complete crap tonight and so inconsistent.