Sunday, June 23, 2019

Timbers Earn First MLS Home Win For 2019 In Dominating Dynamo 4 to 0

Timber Joey, you should look out behind you
I have no idea what is going on here, but it's ridiculously awesome.
Timbers supporters have been waiting for a night like this at Providence Park in MLS play. LAFC spoiled the party in the Timbers' home opener back on June 1 and they held on for a victory despite a furious Timbers rally, literally and figuratively. While Portland was able to exorcise some of the demons at home in a demonstrative 4 to 0 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy in their USOC 4th round match on June 19, the team made it a priority to rebuild the home fortress atmosphere in league play now that the Providence Park rebuild was complete. This goal would be challenged by a compression of fixtures coming up, but much like the various challenges of 2019 to the Timbers, they've employed a strategy of next player up and right now, it's working. With Brian Fernandez's scoring and relentless play leading the way - Fernandez has scored in every Timbers match he's appeared in since joining the team last month - and some meaningful contributions from 2 of their younger players, Portland showed MLS a lot in posting a dominant 4 to 0 decision over the Houston Dynamo. As much as the leaders of the team and some younger charges inspired the result, this was a complete effort contributed to by every player wearing the Timbers crest.

Much has been made of the Timbers' 12 match road trip to start the 2019 MLS season, necessitated by the construction project to remake Providence Park by adding a newly configured east side in addition to several other dramatic changes in terms of travel miles and road matches. However, the Timbers went into this match having played the least number of fixtures in MLS play at 13, and with the compressed schedule for this year shortening weeks off the calendar, there is catch up in dates coming starting with next week's road trip to Montreal followed by the June 30 date hosting FC Dallas. The Timbers' opponent was also tied for last in matches played at 13, but the Dynamo were also dealing with several key player losses due to international competition. Portland was without Andres Flores and Andy Polo for international call ups and Sebastian Blanco for accumulation suspension, but Houston was missing four of their main attacking players for international play in Darwin Ceren, Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis and Maynor Figueroa. Houston was also making the first stop of a brutal 3 match road swing from Portland to San Jose midweek to New England with their main scorers likely not available for any of the matches, so as much as they could relate to Portland's challenges, they weren't going to be overly sympathetic about their situation.

This is a very arty photo.
While Nat Borchers watches, everyone points in a direction.
With Blanco out, Timbers Coach Gio Savarese had to make some decisions about his lineup in this match. Steve Clark has effectively taken over the number one goalkeeper position for now, and he again made his fifth start of the 2019 between the posts. Although Claude Dielna was very good in the USOC match at center back, Savarese chose Julio Cascante to start alongside stalwart defender Larrys Mabiala with the two Jorges as the respective fullbacks - Moreira at right back, Villafana on the left. Savarese also held back Cristhian Paredes, such a vital piece of the USOC win, and gave Renzo Zambrano his second start of the year alongside Diego Chara in the defensive midfield. The replacement for Blanco ended up being Marvin Loria, making his MLS debut alongside Jeremy Ebobisse and Diego Valeri as the attacking midfield. Fernandez again would be the sole striker up top, and considering his production since joining the team on May 6 - he has 4 goals in 3 MLS matches and 3 goals in his 2 USOC appearances - Savarese has to feel comfortable running him out again obviously. Portland would have some intriguing options on the bench with Dielna, Marco Farfan and Modou Jadama for defense, Jeff Attinella for goal, Eryk Williamson for the midfield, and Lucas Melano and Tomas Conechny, a big part of the USOC win earlier in the week, at forward. With the Impact and FC Dallas in the next week, Savarese picked a mix of youth and experience while leaving several good options available for Wednesday.

Wilmer Cabrera, coach of the Dynamo, wasn't going to use any excuses in choosing his charges, although he did curiously choose not to start Mauro Manotas within the eleven. Manotas has made a career scoring against Portland, scoring 7 goals in 7 appearances, but Houston decided to go youthful within their starting group around veterans Marlon Hairston and Boniek Garcia. The team's second leading scorer, midfielder Memo Rodriguez with 5 goals and 2 assists in 12 matches played, was also not listed within the game day eighteen likely due to squad rotation. Houston has been traditionally strong at home with 6 wins and 3 draws in 9 matches in 2019, but on the road, it's a completely different story. The Timbers have a 5 win - 1 draw - 1 loss record in matchups with the Dynamo, but within the framework of the match, it would be interesting to see if the Timbers' young charges could provide enough influence in the match to help their team to victory. Much like the last match, the two sides struggled early to find a tempo and a rhythm: Fernandez just missed in the 12th minute with a low driving left footed shot that Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis pushed away at the last second, while Moreira pulled a shot wide right with some help from Willis in the 18th minute after a strange back and forth sequence where Cascante, playing forward, held the ball in traffic and found an open Moreira. The 38th minute saw the visitors nearly take the lead off a turnover that Hairston collected, and after dribbling for moments, took a shot from the left flank that struck Mabiala then the right post before caroming away for a clearance to Villafana.

Honestly, it's great to see smiles on the pitch
Marvin Loria looks like he's having fun out there. And I like seeing that.
Off that deflection, the Timbers were able to finally tally their first goal. Villafana found Valeri at midpitch for the outlet and Diego held it for moments until finding Moreira shooting forward. Valeri put a though ball to the left that Jorge settled and he put a header into the path of an unmarked Loria, and the youngster slammed a shot home past Willis into the right corner of the net for a 1 to 0 lead. It was a wonderful sequence from back and forth wide involving the experience and youth of the Timbers, and the combination was simply fun to watch. Portland would generate 10 total shots in the first half with 55 percent possession, although the biggest issue of the half was the escalating tension between the sides. Center Official Alan Kelly carded Cascante in the 12th minute for a hard foul, and gave Dynamo forward Tomas Martinez a card for a temper tantrum in the 16th minute, but Chara and Dynamo forward Ronaldo Pena were both carded between the 30th and 35th minute in an escalating battle where Chara and B.Garcia were being targeted by each side with some hard contact during play. There were several fouls that Kelly chose to waive off for advantage, but Pena's foul on Chara brought both sides into the center circle to argue for their case. AT the rate things were going, it appeared neither side would keep their sides at eleven, especially when within moments of the second half starting, Dynamo midfielder Matias Vera was booked for dropping Zambrano with a hard challenge. Even the mild-mannered Valeri got cautioned in the 53rd minute when he bumped B.Garcia from behind slightly, and Kelly brandished the cards to do his best to stop the escalating situation.

After Fernandez missed on a turn and shoot play in the 56th minute, Portland would extend their lead via the penalty spot in the 61st minute. Chara was dribbling on the left flank and dropped to Valeri at the top of the box, and he put a pass to the right for Loria with Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley nearby. As Loria arrived to the ball in the box, Beasley executed a slide tackle and took Loria out, and Kelly wasted no time pointing to the spot. The penalty stood up to VAR review and a Dynamo protest, but the kick itself was delayed by several Dynamo arguments with Kelly, and a strange sequence where Kelly kept telling Willis to hold to his goal line, then walking over to hold him there for several moments while Houston players were jumping across the 18 yard line. Order was restored enough for Valeri to take the penalty going left while Willis went right, and the goal started a crazy celebration in the North End. The celebration hadn't settled down enough before the Timbers added their third goal, courtesy of Fernandez in the 63rd minute. With Houston pressed forward, the Timbers cleared the ball courtesy of Zambrano to Valeri on the right, and Diego punched a cross to the left corner for Fernandez, who was on step with the last 2 Dynamo defenders. Brian ran down the ball and put in a great touch to settle it with his left food, and he was able to punch it in the right corner of the goal before any Houston defender could mark him. Much like the 3 goals in 10 minute sequence against the Galaxy, it was a matter of moments where the match went from up for grabs to completely in control for the Timbers.

It's great to see substitutes give this much effort late in matches
If you're not jumping, you're not Timbers. Even the players get that.
Portland would add a fourth goal in the 75th minute after Chara and Loria were denying in the 70th minute off a rapid fire shooting sequence. Valeri put the ball into Jeremy on the left flank, and Ebobisse decided to challenge Willis from distance on the left, and he put a shot inside the right post at a very acute angle where Willis and the defense couldn't get to it. While Houston did create some pressure at points in the second half, especially when substitute Juan Cabezas came on, they never really threatened the Timbers goal as Clark was forced into just one official save and a couple of crosses claimed over the match. Unlike the Galaxy match where the Timbers made several late defensive errors to give the Galaxy some chances, the Timbers didn't relent and kept the Dynamo attack bottled up. Houston wasn't able to commit numbers forward either as the Timbers were able to provide an effective counter attack all night with Fernandez as the focal point, and the Dynamo paid dearly for each mistake putting players too far forward. Even when the Timbers went to the bench to bring on Conechny and Williamson late for Loria and Fernandez, the pressure was kept up all match. Portland could have added more to the tally but ended up passing it about to run down the clock late.

Of all the matches in 2019, this result was the most complete on both sides of the ball. While the defense had a few moments where they bent under pressure, they didn't break when it counted and the Timbers' ability to press forward kept Houston from mounting a consistent attack. The Timbers offense didn't miss a beat with the rookie Loria, who earned a log slab for his first MLS goal in addition to earning the penalty for Portland's second goal. With Fernandez's ability to stretch defenses and run down balls from anywhere on the pitch, it's opened up channels for the rest of the offense to find space and shoot. While Parades was very good against the Galaxy, Zambrano has shown quality to hold up in the middle alongside Chara, thus giving the Timbers potential viable options on the occasions that Mr. Chara can't play for whatever reason. But perhaps the biggest development with the Timbers is the show of leadership on the pitch during play. I saw Clark talking with defenders at several points to keep the backline calibrated, while Fernandez and Chara were doing their best to direct play with signals or commands. It just seemed like the Timbers were much more cohesive in their approach, and the players were all synced up much better than in previous matches.

Thank you for coming to Portland. You've been simply awesome!
Thank you, Brian, for coming to Portland. You've been simply awesome.
Portland now gets the quick turnaround to travel to Montreal for a June 26th date before returning to play FC Dallas on June 30th to finish this month. The travel doesn't stop as Portland will then travel to New York to play NYCFC on July 7th before heading south to play LAFC in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on July 10th at Banc of California Stadium. The compression doesn't stop as Portland will host Colorado on July 13th followed by Orlando on July 18th before making a trip to Seattle for Cascadia Cup action on July 21st. The Timbers follow that up with hosting the Galaxy on July 27th before making their final road trip for a while to Minnesota and Allianz Field on August 4th before the schedule starts to pay off with 10 home matches in a row from August 10 to September 25. If they advance in U.S. Open Cup play, the semifinals and championship are both scheduled for August, so there might be some travel then, but otherwise, it's sticking close to home for the Timbers once the calendar hits August. But as Savarese is fond of saying, the team is keeping to one match at a time and right now, their focus is on the Impact midweek.

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