Earlier this week, there was one thing that Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese emphasized above all else: After spending most of last week on the road, dealing with the Oregon wildfires, and not being able to practice outdoors, Savarese and company were happy to be back home. But the most important thing, Savarese noted, was that the Timbers had to make Providence Park a fortress again.
They started that process on Wednesday, earning a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders. It was the first time the home team had won in the rivalry in six straight matches, and it propelled Portland to a tie for first place in the Western Conference. It was also the first time the Timbers had earned a clean sheet since March. On Wednesday night, Savarese said it was a good start, but it’s not quite there yet.
“We have to go game-by-game,” Savarese said. “ We cannot think ahead or in the future. We have to make sure that we put performances, each game, being humble, working hard and just have commitment through the entire team. Today we showed it.”
It surely took a team effort to stave off Seattle. The Sounders had 19 shot attempts on the night and constantly put pressure on the Timbers, but Portland did a good job making sure that few of those shots were easy. Of Seattle’s 19 shots, only six of them were on target. It was arguably the best defensive performance of the year.
“I think we played a total game, and that’s the key here,” said goalkeeper Steve Clark, who had six saves. “We’ve been good for parts of games, but tonight we put it all together.”
That had been a problem for Portland. No team has given up more goals in the final 15 minutes of each half than the Timbers this season. While Seattle surely kept pressing on offensively, Portland never relented and made nothing too easy.
“The most important thing was to keep the ball away from the dangerous passes from the areas in which [Seattle can connect and create opportunities,” Savarese said. “Influence the ball to where we want them to play it and make sure that we don’t allow them to find too much space ... They looked a lot today to play the ball behind, but we did a great job to close those spaces, especially in the second half.”
As solid as the defense was, the three points don’t come unless someone gets the goal. That someone was Yimmi Chara, who had his third goal in three games on Wednesday. He became the second player in club history to do just that in a span of just 10 days. The other player to do so? Felipe Mora earlier this year.
It’s been a weird year for the DP. He’s had to battle injuries and up until this point he hadn’t been able to show off what he can really bring to a club. Now that he’s healthy, he’s showing that he has plenty to contribute.
“I think work is the keyword here,” Chara said through a translator about his streak. “The way I’ve been prepared myself and the way I’ve accommodated myself to the team has been vital to everything that you’re seeing right now.”
After losing Sebastian Blanco earlier this month to an ACL tear, the Timbers needed players to step up to fill the void in the midfield. What Chara showed on Wednesday was that when healthy, he’s got the speed to outrun just about anyone on the pitch, making life easier for the Timbers offensively.
“He’s a player that can definitely change speed in transition in a second and beat you in the space,” Savarese said. “If a player is going to stay [back] a little bit more, it depends on their coaches and what they want on the field, but there’s no doubt that Yimmi will create problems in that way because he’s extremely fast, he’s clever in his timing when he has to make the run.”
It was just about as good of a night as the Timbers could’ve asked for. Clean-sheeting a rival in a win that moves you up to first place? Not bad at all. But Steve Clark notes that there’s still work to do.
“Not really,” Clark said when asked if it means anything to be atop the conference. “I mean it’s nice to be there. We want to be there than the other end of the table, but there’s a long way to go. We have our schedule now, we can see the end and again, we need to be mindful and one game at a time, and we need another performance like this on Sunday.”