The Portland Timbers finally won a match, taking down Caleb Porter and Columbus Crew SC 3-1 in a cathartic performance against one of the strongest sides in the Eastern Conference.
From the opening whistle both the Timbers and Crew came out looking organized and patient, but with decidedly different approaches to doing so. While the Timbers looked to get the ball down and work it across their back line and through the midfield, the Crew looked to stay compact in their end before hitting out on the break in classic Caleb Porter fashion.
The Crew had the best chance of the early going in the 28th minute off one of those breaks forward. After a ball sent central from out on the wing found Federico Higuain on the edge of the box, the Argentine flicked the ball forward and into the path of Pedro Santos. Taking a touch toward goal, Santos lined up a shot but Jeff Attinella — after an otherwise shaky start to the match — was able to put two hands on the ball and bat it away.
The big save fed into a growing sense of confidence from the Timbers and, in the 31st minute, that confidence was proved well founded when a headed goal from Larrys Mabiala gave the Timbers the opening goal — and their first match-opening lead of the season. After Diego Valeri was taken down on the dribble thirty yards from the Columbus goal, the Maestro waited for his defenders to get down the pitch before sending a curling ball toward the back post on the restart. As the ball dropped into the Crew box, Mabiala rose up to meet it, sending a snap header toward goal that Columbus keeper Zach Steffen got a hand to, but could not keep from spinning over the goal line to put the Timbers up 1-0.
Just four minutes later the Timbers struck again. As they worked the ball through the Columbus half from flank to flank, the Timbers found forward Jeremy Ebobisse just outside the 18 yard box. Receiving the ball with his back to goal, Ebobisse turned and sent a ball out wide for the run of Sebastian Blanco before cutting toward goal. Blanco immediately sent a low, square ball back into the box, finding the feet of Ebobisse with separation from his defender for a strong, placed finish.
Fifteen minutes into the second half the Timbers seemed to have lost some of their momentum, allowing the game to open up and the Crew to break forward on occasion and conceding several free kicks in dangerous areas.
Finally, in the 69th minute, one of the massive mistakes that have plagued the Timbers throughout the start of the season gave the Crew a perfect chance to pull one back. After collecting an errant ball into the Timbers box, Attinella looked to find Blanco with a quick throw down the pitch only to have Santos intercept the ball. With Attinella well off his line, Santos chipped an easy ball over the Timbers keeper and into the back of the net to cut the Timbers’ lead to one.
As the match ground on, clear chances were hard to come by for both sides and the Timbers looked to keep it that way with a defensive move in the 85th minute, switching to a five-man back line.
Columbus poured on the pressure, looking for an equalizer to preserve a point in front of their home fans, but the Timbers held strong, and two minutes into stoppage time they found a goal of their own to kill the match off. After Blanco and substitute Tomas Conechney took the ball into the corner to run down the clock, Blanco found himself with an open avenue to Cristian Paredes at the top of the box. Picking his head up, Paredes received the ball and, rather than shooting, played a simple ball to Jorge Moreira cutting into the box from the flank. With his first touch, Moreira stuck, giving Steffen no chance at the ball before it rippled the back of the net and giving the Timbers a 3-1 lead to close out the match.
The Timbers continue their season-opening road trip next Saturday, April 27th, when they will face another Eastern Conference side, Toronto FC.