The Portland Timbers went up 1-0 early before settling in to weather the storm against Nashville SC on Sunday evening, stymieing the visitors and earning their first win of the season.
After a frantic opening ten minutes, the Timbers were able to settle the match and put their stamp on the match. A short period of possession later, the Timbers worked their way up to the Nashville box with the ball and looked for an opening.
In the 12th minute the Timbers found that opening. A cross into the box from Jorge Villafana looked dangerous, but was headed away by a Nashville defender. The clearance only went as far as Andy Polo, however, as the Peruvian midfielder got up and put a headed ball back into space where Diego Valeri was waiting. As the ball fell to him, the Maestro took it in mid-air, hitting a side-volley that gave Nashville keeper Joe Willis no chance at a save before it hit the back of the net.
The Timbers came close again in the 24th minute, this time on a series of shot passes and a quick break down the pitch. After getting the ball into the attacking end the Timbers unlocked the Nashville back line with one-touch passes from Sebastian Blanco in the center of the pitch, then to Yimmi Chara just inside the box, and finally to Felipe Mora at the top of the arch for a first-time shot that forced Willis to get low and make a save.
As the first half wore on, the Timbers took a more conservative stance and the visitors were able to venture further and further forward, pinning the Timbers back in their defensive end and smothering any chance at a counter-attack.
The second half started off on a more even keel, with both sides venturing forward but neither generating many chances. Once again, however, the Timbers retreated further and further into their own end as they looked to stay compact.
The Timbers’ retreat into their own end was nearly punished in the 62nd minute when a series of Nashville balls into the box eventually found attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar in close to goal. Mukhtar got off a quick shot, but was being closed down by the Timbers defense and had it blocked away as it left his boot.
In the 70th minute Anibal Godoy almost managed to break through the Timbers’ shell. After a stifled attempt by the Timbers to break down the pitch, Nashville found Godoy in space outside of the box. The midfielder lined up a low shot and fired, but Steve Clark was ready and sprawled out across the face of goal to touch the ball around the post and preserve the Timbers’ 1-0 lead.
The visitors came close again in the 76th minute, when Dax McCarty won the ball deep in the Timbers end and found Mukhtar for a quick pass to Daniel Rios at the near post. Rios took his chance first time, but could not steer it on frame.
Late in the half, the Timbers were improved by the introduction of Jeremy Ebobisse, whose hold-up play and controlled passing allowed the Timbers to compose themselves as they tried to break out of the Nashville choke hold.
The visitors had a final chance deep in second half stoppage time when a long cross from Jimmy Medranda found Nashville center back Walker Zimmerman at the back post. Zimmerman sent a headed ball back across the face of goal, but it was wide of the post and there was nobody to steer it home, leaving the final score at 1-0 to the Timbers.
Next weekend the Timbers leave Portland for the first time this season when they head across the country to take on the New England Revolution on Sunday, March 15th.