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Everything for the Timbers is going according to plan

Last night, the Timbers took down the San Jose Earthquakes 3-0. It seems like everything is going according to plan for the club.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, it was a picturesque Portland October night: Rain poured down from the sky, winds blew at nearly 30 miles per hour, and the Portland Timbers extended their winning streak to five against the San Jose Earthquakes. If you’re a native Portlander, there’s not much more you can ask for.

Let’s focus more on the Timbers, since that’s probably what you’re here for. It’s been a fine run of form for the club, and it only got better last night. It wasn’t just their fifth win in a row, but also their sixth unbeaten match in a row. They’ve scored 18 goals over that six-game stretch, including six goals twice.

“I have to tell you, the way the guys have been working, how united they are, how much they put in, I cannot ask them more because they’re giving me everything,” Head Coach Giovanni Savarese said. “They’ve given the team everything.”

Everyone seems to be putting in the extra effort, and it’s paying off. The attacking depth of this squad has been talked about plenty this year — and for good reason. Again, that depth was shown off last night as Jaroslaw Niezgoda was the one to step up for the club. The Polish striker earned a brace just seven minutes into the second half. He’s the third player to get a brace in the last two matches.

“I feel good,” Niezgoda said afterwards. “We started very well in the second half. The first minutes we scored two goals, and it was a very important start for a goal because we knew that we are a better and we deserved a win today and we proved it, especially in the second half.”

It really was a tale of two halves for Portland last night. San Jose made it clear that this was not the same squad that Portland beat 6-1 just last month. Coming into the match, the Earthquakes were in fine form, having won three in a row. They hadn’t been allowing goals six at a time like in September.

From the very start, the Earthquakes played aggressively. Their man-marking style is naturally very physical already, and that was no different last night. They backed up that physical play with solid offense, playing wide and sending long crosses into the box. If Steve Clark hadn’t been in goal, there’s a good chance the scoreline would be a lot closer than 3-0.

“Every game is different,” Savarese said. “It doesn’t matter how many times you play the same team, every game is tough. Yeah, you do plan some things because you understand how they play, they understand how we play, so some pieces of course will be similar. But every game becomes a completely different system.

The important thing for Savarese was that the Timbers didn’t let that physicality disrupt them. The first half wasn’t great — they had chances offensively, but too often the mobility wasn’t there or the decision was just late. But the second half they came out flying, with Diego Chara launching on-point crosses right where only the strikers could get them. The decisions were cleaner, crisper. For Niezgoda, getting that goal within literally the first minute of the half made that possible.

“I don’t know what happened,” Niezgoda said. “I think that we played the same in the first half, just I think what was very important was the goal breakthrough and later was easier for us to play against them.”

That’s important for this team moving forward. Soccer is not always about immediately adjusting the game plan the instant it doesn’t work. It’s about having confidence in your plan and knowing that the breakthrough is coming soon. The more comfortable the players are with knowing their identities and what they can do within the system, the better it is for Portland.

Now the team only has until Wednesday to rest up. They’ll go on the road to face off against Real Salt Lake in just a couple days. The last time these two teams matched up, it ended in a draw, but you could argue RSL really “won” that match since Portland conceded two goals in extra time. But now they’ve built back up the confidence to take on just about any squad, and while they’re never taking anything for granted, they feel they can always expect to leave the pitch with points.

“I think we have an amazing group and anytime we step on the field we should be confident and expect to get a result,” Defender Marco Farfan said. “Right now, we’re having a lot of games, midweek games, weekend games, so enjoy the good results we get and then focus on the next game.”