It’s been about 14 hours since the Portland Timbers’ dramatic draw against Club America in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal, so if you haven’t breathed since then, you can now. You don’t have to worry about waking up from some dreamland and finding out that the Timbers didn’t actually draw one of the best clubs in North America 1-1 thanks to an at-the-death penalty kick. That actually happened — and it was classic Timbers.
It was classic Timbers because it was yet another tale-of-two-halves game where Portland seemingly created chance after chance in the second half after generating literally zero shots in the first. Yet they still came out with a result thanks to an untimely handball for America, giving the Timbers a result that seemed highly unlikely after 45 minutes of soccer.
“We just talked about the things that we needed to do better, and we needed to do it with a little more belief, and the came into the second half and performed very well,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said about the adjustments at halftime. “We were very strong. We moved the ball much better. We started to win more of the second balls than in the first half.”
It’s not that the Timbers weren’t trying or playing with energy in the first half. It was just that Club America clearly played like the better team, dominating possession and intercepting pass after pass from Portland’s midfielders. As noted earlier, the Timbers quite literally had zero shots in the first half, not recording any attempts until the 50th minute (an incredible attempt by Dairon Asprilla). America did well to win second balls and control the midfield as much as possible.
But even as the Timbers struggled in that first half, Savarese wasn’t worried because he felt that they weren’t conceding opportunities to America on the defensive end. The Liga MX side’s only goal also came on a PK from Roger Martinez at the end of the first half. In the end, Club America did end up outshooting the Timbers, but only by one (11 to 10).
“I don’t recall many chance also from America in the first half, or the second half,” Savarese said. “It was a very difficult match, which was played mostly inn the middle of the field. I think they were very good in winning the second balls in the first half. I think we were very good in the second half to win the second ball and play through the lines to create opportunities.”
Portland’s work in the second half was finally rewarded at the end with their penalty kick in stoppage time. Savarese saw it as a direct byproduct of the hard work they had put in throughout the final 45-plus minutes of the match. Timbers forward Felipe Mora — the Timber who hit the winning shot — felt so as well.
“I was very happy with how this turned out,” Mora said through a translator. “Of course I was very nervous, but was at the same time very glad we were able to [get] this result and change the game, especially because we were playing much better in the second half.”
“I think we have to, I would say celebrate, but I think what we have to acknowledge is how well we did in the second half,” Savarese added. “I think we deserve this result, even though I think in the second half, we had some very good chances.”
Whether you focus on the first half stumbles or the second half heroics, it’s undeniable that this was one of the better CCL matches to have ever CONCACAF’d. The Timbers got the result here, but now they have one week before heading to Estadio Azteca for the away leg, not to mention a match against FC Dallas before that. They will celebrate the win for now, but it’s back to work soon after.
“I think for the competition for the type of game, I think it was a great game,” Savarese said. “And now we need to prepare. I know they will be very prepared.”