Well. That feels a lot better than the draws and losses the Portland Timbers have had too many of recently.
Perhaps most importantly, the win puts the Timbers on 13 points which, while still an underwhelming eighth in the Western Conference, is only one point out of fourth.
The point being, tepid start notwithstanding, the Timbers are far from out of the Western Conference race. And if with the return of Diego Valeri the Timbers can pull themselves out of the spring doldrums in short order, they are very much in a position from which they can make some noise in the Western Conference.
But it’s going to take a lot more results like Saturday’s to do so. Here are three questions out of the Timbers’ conquest of Mount Royal.
1. Where did the Timbers win this game?
The easy answer is in the first 25 minutes of the second half. But the Timbers actually had Montreal cooking going into the locker room.
Now, I know what you’re thinking - "How can he say that? The Timbers created absolutely nothing in the first half!"
And you’re right. The Timbers didn’t create anything in the first half.
But for the first 20 minutes of the game everything went Montreal’s way. Although the Impact didn’t have a ton to show for it, Montreal was seemingly the only team on the field over the course of the opening spells of the match, dominating the middle of the field and repeatedly killing Timbers’ buildups in the cradle.
But that slowly began to change as the first half wore on. Although the Timbers still weren’t much to look at in the attacking third on account of sometimes frustrating patience, they began to string some passes through the midfield and got their foot on the ball much, much more than to open up.
As a result the Impact had to press harder and commit more numbers to try to generate the half-chances they got so easily in the first 20 minutes.
And so out of the locker room the Timbers went very, very direct, took advantage of the spaces between the Impact’s lines, and took over the game. Here’s the Timbers' distribution chart between the 46th and 70th minutes:
Everything vertical. And almost everything dangerous.
As a result, the Timbers started creating chances like crazy both from the run of play and from attacking dead-ball situations. It’s no surprise they entered this spell at 0-0 and left at 2-0.
But the Timbers wouldn’t have been able to do this if they hadn’t started winning the midfield battle in the first half, forcing the Impact to press harder and letting the Timbers attacking midfielders leak out a step quicker.
Caleb Porter frequently talks about the importance of a team knowing when to put their foot on the ball and when to step on the gas. In 2014, especially at home, the Timbers had some trouble with this, as they were often lead footed when they should have been patient. The result? Lots of 3-3s.
And while the Timbers could have done a better job of killing this one off after going up two goals, it was a perfect example of how patience in one phase of the game can lead to success in another. On Saturday the Timbers were patient on the front side of halftime and ruthless after the break.
With the result being three points.
2. How good is Diego Valeri?
Look, we’re still not seeing 100% of Valeri. In the first half Valeri struggled at times to find the game and was noticeably rusty with his touches during a pretty tight half in midfield.
But coming out of the locker room with a fresh crease in his pants, the Maestro looked like his old self, checking back between the lines and playing his teammates into dangerous spaces at will.
For those concerned about how long it will take Valeri to get back into form, however, the best news was this touch in the buildup to Valeri’s magnificently taken goal.
That flick to Rodney Wallace is a great touch for a player in midseason form. That’s absurd for a guy who’s been playing full-out soccer for three weeks after six months away from the game.
And then the run into space with Wallace occupying Montreal right back Nigel Reo-Coker? And the finish? That’s elite attacking football, and something the Timbers have been sorely, sorely missing.
It may take a few more weeks for us to see this with as much regularity as we normally do from Valeri, but even 80% of the Maestro is still a major shot in the arm for the Timbers’ attack.
3. Is Gaston Fernandez finished as a Timber?
Among plenty of news before the game on Saturday was the conspicuous absence of Gaston Fernandez from the Timbers’ 18-man roster in Montreal.
How unusual is that?
La Gata facts: First time in his Timbers career that Fernandez isn't in the 18. Only the third time he won't play.— Stumptown Footy (@StumptownFooty) May 9, 2015
Fernandez has had a poor start to 2015. There really aren’t any bones about it. But perhaps worse than his start to 2015, however, was Fernandez’s noticeable lack of effort in a 45-minute runout with T2 last Sunday.
It’s one thing to be in a slump. It’s another thing altogether to show indifference.
With Fernandez out of favor with Caleb Porter and the Argentine attacking utilityman seemingly checked out, it’s hard to see how his tenure with the club remains tenable. And La Gata’s exclusion from the game-day roster on Sunday does nothing to dispel that notion.
Maybe Porter was simply sending a message on Sunday. Maybe La Gata will be back in the team next week. But in light of how the last two months (and particularly the last two weeks) have gone for Fernandez, it’s hard not to interpret Sunday’s snub as writing on the wall for La Gata.