There wasn’t really too much more one could have asked of the Portland Timbers after their 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Saturday. It wasn’t always pretty from Portland: They struggled with their finishing in the first half and didn’t really generate much of anything until deep into the second half. But even though there may have left a little something to be desired, one can’t argue with the result.
That’s because, as always, three points is three points is three points. And for a team that was struggling to earn points — Portland had accumulated only four points in their last five matches before Saturday — they were desperately needed. Now the Timbers are back above the playoff line and feeling a lot better about themselves
“Overall, it was a very good performance,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “The guys were patient enough to understand the moments that we needed to take advantage of ... I think the way the guys looked on the field, the way they performed, how united the players were, was very important today.”
There were three things that stood out as particularly important to this Timbers win. First, the defense. The Timbers were solid on that end for most of the night. Instead of going for the “bend but don’t break” strategy, the Timbers were proactive and made it difficult for FC Dallas early on. Dallas ended the half with three killer shots, two of them on goal, but Portland didn’t falter after that. They allowed four more shots, but none of them were on target.
The result was a clean sheet for Portland, just the third of the season for Portland. Goalkeeper Steve Clark — who made critical saves throughout the match — said it was the commitment from the the whole team that made it possible for the Timbers to hold Dallas scoreless.
“It was a full team defensive effort,” Clark said. “We were compact, and the guys defended really well. My job is to make a couple saves, and I was able to do that tonight, so it feels good.”
The second thing worth noting is the formation change in the second half. The Timbers shifted from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 late in the match. The shift certainly caught Dallas off guard, and it eventually allowed Jeremy Ebobisse to find the gap in the defense on the counterattack and score the game-winner.
“Going to that 4-4-2 really put two pieces that [FC Dallas] had to focus on at all times, and then trying to find the right move in between Felipe [Mora] and myself obviously becomes a challenge for the defenders that we’re playing against,” Ebobisse said. “Unfortunately, [Mora] had to come out with a small problem, and we weren’t able to maximize our dual threat, but it’s definitely another look that our team can give anyone at any moment in the game.”
Being able to throw that look out there is partially because of the depth Portland finally has. The Timbers rostered 20 guys for this match and brought back critical players like Mora and Yimmi Chara. While they were missing other key cogs, like Eryk Williamson and Claudio Bravo, Savarese noted it was an overall boon to the team to have that depth.
“It’s good to see guys being back,” Savarese said. “So it was a good feeling to finally have a roster that can be more competitive.”
The final factor that played into this win was — not to be too cheesy — the fans. While there’s no way to quantify how the 23,255 fans in the stands helped propel the Timbers to victory, the team felt that they played a significant role in getting the win. Life’s just better when there are fans to cheer you on.
“The fans really do make it a lot more fun because it did feel like work when the fans weren’t there,” Clark said. “They mean a lot to us and it was a tight game today, and certainly we made the difference on the field today, but they were pushing us.”
Things don’t get easier for the Timbers. They have a tough string of matches all compacted together, starting on Wednesday against LAFC. It certainly won’t be easy, but for the first time in a while, the Timbers feel like they have some momentum on their side.