|Andy Polo had a very good night against the Crew|
Timbers Coach Gio Savarese was less than pleased with the Timbers' effort in Houston despite the team taking an early lead off an own goal caused from a shot by Alvas Powell. Portland thought they had tied the match at 2 just before the half, but upon VAR review, the leveling effort from Diego Chara off a Diego Valeri assist was ruled no goal as Valeri was offside. Replays show if this truly was the case, it was off by mere millimeters, but the negated goal doesn't explain the struggles in the second half when Portland failed to generate any consistent offense as Houston employed their counter to tack on 2 more goals to win going away. To that end, Savarese made several updates within the starting eleven against a Crew side that has some of the same qualities as Houston in terms of playing the counter to hopefully stabilize the side. Steve Clark was again in goal for the Timbers with Kendall McIntosh listed as his substitute, while Savarese brought back Liam Ridgewell to pair with Larrys Mabiala as the center back duo with Julio Cascante listed on the bench. Powell, who was one of the few bright spots early in Houston, was also sent to the bench for Jorge Villafana as Zarek Valentin was flanked out right. Lawrence Olum, who had started in the last 2 matches for the Timbers, was given the night off in the midfield and replaced directly with David Guzman alongside Chara and Andy Polo, who started in place of Cristhian Paredes. Even the offensive trio got an adjustment as Samuel Armenteros was selected to start in lieu of Jeremy Ebobisse at striker with Valeri and Sebastian Blanco employed as the attacking midfield. Savarese did have Lucas Melano, Andres Flores and Bill Tuiloma also available as needed, but the real keys here were if the changes to add Guzman, Ridgewell, Polo, Villafana and Armenteros were enough to stabilize the offense.
|Sebastian Blanco was everywhere on this night. Literally.|
With all the intriguing story lines coming into the match with squad rotation, another piece that would end up being discussed at length was the officiating. Ted Unkel is one of the most senior officials within MLS in terms of game experience, however, Unkel's style of officiating can be best described as a mix between heavy handed calls and complete laissez-faire monitoring. That was probably made extremely apparent in the 7th minute when the Crew were breaking down the middle with a pass for Mullins and the Crew striker caught Guzman with an elbow to the face. With Guzman down, Unkel didn't make any call as the Timbers protested and the Crew pressed when Sosa fed Santos with a pass on the left that was dropped to Valenzuela on the flank. A low cross back to the box nearly caught up to Mullins, but he dummied the ball to keep the Timbers flat footed and Hanson broke in behind to shoot the ball into the goal. Villafana might have helped the ball in with some contact, but with the Timbers extremely frustrated, the Crew had taken the early 1 to 0 lead. Two minutes later, Sosa went down easily on a run to the left that earned Polo a caution, and Guzman was yelling at Unkel for the missed call earlier in the match.
|Ted Unkel either called everything or nothing. Was that kind of match.|
In the 18th minute, Chara played a ball to Blanco, who was equally sharing distribution duties with Valeri, and Seba put a diagonal ball out to Polo on the right. The young winger put a cross to the top of the box where Guzman was waiting in space as Crew defenders Gaston Sauro and Hector Jimenez were slow to pick him up. David put an expertly placed header inside the left post off the cross, and the sense of relief felt by the Timbers and the crowd seemed to energize everybody. Guzman was still upset about the earlier play, and he earned a caution off a hard foul in the 34th minute that appeared to be somewhat retaliatory, but you also got the sense that the Timbers were ready to fight. They had to deal with immediate threats from consecutive free kicks by the Crew with Santos going at goal near the box, and Clark made an especially tricky save in the 26th minute off the best effort. Valenzuela, Santos and Artur also challenged the Timbers defense within the next few minutes, but the Timbers would end up taking the lead in the 37th minute off one of the best individual plays I've seen from a Timbers player in some time.
|Andy Polo celebrates his goal. One of the best individual efforts I've seen.|
The second half saw no changes to either side, but the Timbers kept up the pressure and added to their lead before most fans had settled back into their seats. Valeri led a break in the 48th minute up the middle and fed a streaking Chara on the left side with a pass, but his shot was blocked by Sauro over to the right where Armenteros ran down the loose ball. The striker took a simple move, shot the ball and it banked off Crew defender Lalas Abubakar past Steffen to push the lead to 3 to 1. Unlike the Villafana/Hanson situation where it appeared that Hanson got the shot and it hit off Villafana in the action, this one was originally given to Armenteros but later changed to an own goal as Abubakar's action pushed the ball into the net. The Timbers spent the next 10 minutes or so circling about with a myriad of shots and chances, but they couldn't add anything to their tally before the Crew executed the soccer equivalent of a hockey line change - Berhalter used all 3 of his subs at the same time in the 61st minute when he brought on Josh Williams, Conor Maloney and Luis Argudo for Santos, Valenzuela and Artur. With this move, Berhalter left his big offensive guns on the bench with Meram and Zardes getting the night off, but would it be the right move?
|Everyone put your hands up. Everyone!|
After Mullins pulled a shot wide of the left post and Williams pulled a shot over the bar right afterwards on the next run. the Crew added a goal in the very late stages past the allocated 2 minutes of stoppage time. Sosa played a ball out wide right for Maloney who whipped a cross to the left post where Hansen had found space and no mark, and he confidently put the header past Clark as the Timbers Army were celebrating the win by Tetrising. The final whistle blew right after the restart, but it was some very nervy late moments as the Crew pulled out an extra goal to make things interesting. The biggest questions now surround the trip to Minnesota this weekend with really most of the key offensive threats for the Timbers having played big minutes in Houston and versus Columbus. Does Ebobisse get the start against the Loons since Armenteros played most of the match? Does Savarese avoid the rotation on defense and play Ridgewell and Villafana again for long minutes after the midweek match or does he go back to Cascante and Powell instead? Usually a big win like this adds some confidence for the victors, but with the Timbers staring at a wickedly hard schedule down the stretch, player health and fitness will be paramount. This point is huge considering that after Minnesota, the Timbers play 4 matches against teams in the playoff chase around them (host FC Dallas on 9/29 currently in 2nd place; RSL in Utah on 10/7 currently in 5th place behind Portland, RSL in Portland on 10/21, Vancouver in Canada on 10/28 with the Caps currently in 7th place 4 points below the line).