The Portland Timbers team that didn’t keep a clean sheet in any of its first 14 competitive games of the season has now put together 250 consecutive shutout minutes in all competitions.
Granted, those games have been far from pretty. And the competition has been less than stellar.
But still, the team that couldn’t put up a clean sheet against anybody is starting to earn shutouts.
Here are three questions from the Timbers’ 2-0 blanking of the San Jose Earthquakes:
1. What did we learn about the Timbers roster on Tuesday night?
It looks a little bit deeper than we thought, which will come in handy for both U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League.
A few weeks back, in the thick of the Timbers’ deepest struggles, Caleb Porter mentioned although Portland’s injury and form woes were hurting them at the time, they would be a benefit in the long term as a result of so many players getting meaningful minutes. At the time the statement was a first-ballot lipstick-on-a-pig hall of famer.
But the Timbers on Tuesday showed there may be some truth to Porter’s clinched-teeth optimism. Jack Barmby -- a player who has had underwhelming results thus far at the MLS level -- was perhaps the best player on a field full of MLS players in the first half on Tuesday. Zarek Valentin -- who was expected to play a supporting role coming into the season -- put in another solid performance at his least-natural position on the backline. Ben Zemanski -- a serviceable backup to one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS -- stepped into the lineup and commanded the central midfield.
In addition, Taylor Peay has now fully bounced back from his own early-season injury woes to emerge as a legitimate first-team contender. Amobi Okugo -- not even on the roster a month ago -- looked on Tuesday like he could provide some much-needed depth in central defense. And Jack McInerney continues to prove his doubters (myself included) wrong by bagging his fifth goal of the year.
As with Tuesday night, it’s unlikely the Timbers will fully empty the bench for any of their Open Cup or CCL fixtures. But if Tuesday demonstrated anything, it’s that the Timbers have a few more pieces that can be successful in a mixed lineup than many thought a few weeks back.
Although some may want the Timbers to play their best XI in every game regardless of competition, the reality of a summer and fall schedule that consists of three competitions requires otherwise. And getting strong performances from players outside the first-choice XI in early Open Cup fixtures -- to the aspirational end of stringing together a successful Cup run -- will only help the Timbers' cause as a compressed second-half slate necessitates some squad rotation.
So the Timbers certainly come out of Tuesday evening feeling increasingly comfortable with how their roster sets up for non-MLS play this year.
Now whether any of those pieces can take the next step and become significant first-choice contributors remains to be seen.
2. So what’s going on with this Barmby kid?
It is, of course, going to take a lot more than one good performance in U.S. Open Cup to make an MLS career.
But, although his overall performance throughout this season has been a step up from his disastrous debut at Orlando City, until Tuesday Barmby hadn't showed significant signs of being a player that can make an impact on the MLS level. As a result, many had written Barmby off as among a handful of missed signings that had left the Timbers lacking on the wings.
That, however, may have been hasty. It’s been easy to forget that of the Timbers’ recent first-team acquisitions, Barmby is by far the youngest at just 21 years of age. Given that Barmby had barely been in town for two months and is in his first MLS season, the former Leicester farmhand remains well within the expected adjustment period.
Adjustment period or no, however, Barmby was still due to show some flashes of being capable of playing at the MLS level. And that’s where Tuesday night comes in. So even if Barmby looks a ways off from being the instant-impact on the wings that the Timbers still need, by virtue of his performance on Tuesday Barmby gave himself a platform on which to start building his MLS career.
3. How many games did the Timbers win on Tuesday evening?
Okay, not actually. But kind of.
In addition to their win over the Earthquakes, the Timbers have a claim to stake as potential winners of the Open Cup game between Real Salt Lake and the Wilmington Hammerheads, at least at it relates to the Timbers’ visit to Sandy on Saturday.
Although RSL is certainly relieved to have come back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Hammerheads in penalties, surviving over Wilmington came at at cost for RSL. The following players played 120 minutes in the effort: Aaron Maund, Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert, Luke Mulholland, John Stertzer (117 minutes), Javier Morales, and Burrito Martinez. In addition, Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan both played over an hour.
The minutes logged against the Hammerheads are particularly significant for RSL in light of uncertainty regarding the availability of both Kyle Beckerman (national-team duty) and Sunny (injury) for Saturday’s MLS game against the Timbers. From all indications, there is a very real possibility that Stertzer, Mulholland, and Morales will be RSL’s starting central midfield on Saturday evening.
And those three just collectively played 357 minutes in order to defeat a USL team at home.
What looked coming into the evening like a mountain for the Timbers to climb on the weekend may have become a real opportunity for Portland to earn its first road win of 2016.