You know it’s a good night when Timber Joey posts a video of the victory log looking more like a victory stump (with some humorous Seinfeld PG-13 humor thrown in):
The Portland Timbers 6-1 demolition of Real Salt Lake on Saturday was significant for a few reasons, the most visible of which is the number of times a fresh log slab was cut due to Portland finding the back of the net. But the win was even more significant for what it represented.
Saturday night was cathartic for the Timbers. Up until last month, the 2021 season had been defined by bad times and bad vibes. The current unbeaten run banished a lot of those demons through a string of positive results. But Saturday is when it truly felt like Portland had put the first five and a half months of the season behind them.
It felt like the team was getting something off their chest each and every time the ball flew off a players’ boot into the back of the RSL net. In a season that has featured the Timbers being blown out on multiple occasions, Portland were the ones filling up the goal this time. In a season where fans were literally out-cheered in their own stadium because the home team was so bad, everyone in attendance was jumping and clapping and singing for basically the entire second half.
It represented a culmination of sorts. Portland had put in about five weeks of good hard work throughout their current unbeaten run and much of it has been defined by gritty and resilient performances. It was successful but it wasn’t pretty. And it still felt like that last piece of lethality and offensive ruthlessness was missing and it was the last piece they needed to really put it all together.
Well, on Saturday, it pretty much all came together- to beautiful effect.
We all saw and absolutely loved what happened. What was so crucial about Saturday’s performance though was that it happened at pretty much the perfect time, in almost the perfect way. The Timbers basically ran through the checklist and answered all the big questions lobbed at them.
Need an attack that isn’t so super reliant on Sebastian Blanco? Cool- Yimmi Chara has his best game of the season and he and five other players score. Need another plot point of Portland being resilient in the face of adversity? Fine- Portland weather a mistake on the back line and repel RSL for the rest of the game. Need to show a killer instinct? See previous statement about turning victory logs into victory stumps.
Portland were not only able to rubber-stamp their ability to stay determined and resilient in keeping opponents at bay, but they were also able to find an offensive explosion from multiple areas. They were able to continue everything that has helped lift their season and also added a frightening new twist.
Perhaps most importantly, Portland were able to rediscover the purest and most effective version of themselves- a dynamic and absolutely lethal counterattacking force. Why Giovanni Savarese ever thinks this team is anything but a terrifying transition team, I will never know. Because Portland’s counters were a thing of absolute beauty Saturday night and they produced not one, but two highlight-reel goals.
Portland embracing their identity sets them up well against basically every other Western Conference rival they will face down the stretch- especially in away matches, of which Portland have four remaining. Trying to force and capitalize on transition moments feels like the most sustainable and effective version of this team and they looked to be figuring that out on Saturday night.
There are still eight games left. The Western Conference standings remain an absolute mud fight and Portland cannot rest on their laurels and expect to coast into the playoffs. Performances like last week, and the weeks prior, must continue to be the norm.
But if they can do that, and if Portland can truly leave the ghosts of spring and early summer behind, then watch out. It sends a message- one that (as my colleague Alex pointed out in his gamer) Liam Ridgewell expressed on the broadcast: there’s something special happening with this team.
Stats, Stems, and Leaves
- The Timbers have now taken 16 points from their last six games. No other MLS team has taken more than 13 in their last six fixtures.
- According to American Soccer Analysis, Portland overperformed their expected goals value on Saturday by 4.1. That’s, uh, a lot.
- Tied for third on Portland’s assist list (according to FBref)? That would be center back Dairo Zuparic, who got his second helper of the season in quite astounding fashion.
- Take it away, Statman Emeritus:
Tonight was the first time since the club's founding in 1975 that the Timbers have had 6 different goalscorers in a competitive match.#RCTID— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) September 26, 2021
Moment in the Shade
Praises could be rained down upon many from Saturday’s win. Asprilla kept the “Year of Dairon” rolling along, Jaroslaw Niezgoda proved that, yes, he is still a fully functioning soccer player (take note Gio!), and Diego Chara got a rare goal and gave us a not-so-rare smile.
But I want to take a moment to appreciate the performance of Yimmi Chara on Saturday. Portland’s Colombian Designated Player has quite frankly not lived up to the tag thus far in 2021. I wrote a bit about his underwhelming numbers going into the RSL game and how Yimmi needed to step up if Portland were to become a true contender in the West.
Well, step up he did- to the tune of a worldie of a goal, an assist to his brother and just an all-around active and fantastic game. He had seven shot-creating actions, according to FBref- the most out of anyone on the pitch Saturday night- and also completed the most passes out of anyone on the Timbers. In short, it was the type of performance that we have all been wanting to see from the younger Chara brother.
And it really couldn’t have come at a better time for the Timbers. As referenced earlier, the Portland attack has been very Blanco-centric as of late. Seba was still influential on the night but Yimmi was just as dynamic and impactful. The attacking DP put in the type of performance an attacking DP should and the Timbers showed the kind of level they can hit when he’s firing.
Yimmi Chara will still need to step up more consistently if Portland are to consistently stay near the top of the West. But we saw him put in a complete shift on Saturday and that will hopefully help build his confidence so he can keep driving the Timbers higher.