With a four game winning streak -- five if you count the U.S. Open Cup -- and position near the top of the table on the line, the Portland Timbers continued their upward trajectory as they took the game to the Houston Dynamo tonight and came away with the 2-0 win on a pair of set piece goals.
The Timbers opened the scoring in the 34th minute after controlling the ball for much of the first half. Following a foul on Darlington Nagbe as the free-ranging midfielder ran down the left flank, the Timbers pushed forward for the free kick. Sending the ball in from distance, Jorge Villafana was able to drop a curling ball perfectly for Maximiliano Urruti, who snapped his head forward and buried the ball past Tyler Deric and into the back of the net, putting the Timbers up 1-0.
Energized by the goal, the Timbers stepped up their pressure to close out the half, culminating in a series of scrambling chances in the Dynamo box that just would not go. The closest the Timbers came was in the 40th minute as Jorge Villafana got on the ball inside the Houston box, going down under heavy pressure from the Dynamo defense before getting up and then being forced to the ground again as he fought for the ball. Despite the Timbers' appeals for a penalty, a corner -- and a brief scuffle between Will Johnson and Dynamo defender Raul Rodriguez -- was all they would get.
In the second half, however, the Timbers' penalty prayers would be answered as Villafana curled a corner kick into the Houston box. With the typical scrum developing in front of goal, Norberto Paparatto found himself dragged to the ground by former Timber David Horst. Stepping up to the mass of players, referee Baldomero Toledo blew his whistle and pointed to the spot, awarding the Timbers a penalty and giving Horst a yellow for his role in the play.
Where Gaston Fernandez and Will Johnson famously argued over who would take a penalty kick in 2014, there was no disagreement in this one as Fernandez stepped up to the spot. Placing the ball, Fernandez ran up and sent Deric diving the other way as he calmly side-footed the ball to his right, rippling the back of the net and putting the Timbers up 2-0, where the score would stay for the remainder of the match.
With the win the Timbers move into third place in the Western Conference and fourth in the race for the Supporters Shield. At 25 points so far, the Timbers are ahead of their next opponents, the LA Galaxy, on tiebreakers alone. The Timbers will travel to face the Galaxy this Wednesday, before returning for next Sunday's rematch against the Seattle Sounders.