Portland Timbers Get Healthy, Flash Potential in Win Against Toronto FC
Monday, May 02, 2016
It was an absolutely picturesque day for soccer as Portland took on Toronto FC Sunday afternoon, with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures hovering near 80 degrees. It was a star-studded affair too, with U.S. internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, former Timbers captain Johnson and reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco all starting for Toronto.
But despite all that offensive talent coming from north of the border, it was Portland’s attackers who put on a show in the first half, with multiple sequences of beautiful passing and chances. Along with the usual suspects, Darren Mattocks had a stellar first half, creating numerous chances while playing under control and within Caleb Porter’s scheme.
Portland got the scoring started with an absolutely beautiful goal in the 17th minute when Darren Mattocks slipped a through-ball into Diego Valeri, who was celebrating his 30th birthday, which was laid off at the penalty spot to a waiting Fanendo Adi who calmly slid it into the open net.
But Toronto was able to equalize going into halftime in the 40th minute when Will Johnson slotted a ball just past Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson into the bottom right corner, much to the chagrin of the Timbers Army, particularly as it came just moments after a controversial non-call on a handball by a Toronto defender that would have led to a penalty kick for Portland.
Right out of halftime, Portland caught a break as Drew Moor’s unmarked header in the box ricocheted off those magical north end goalposts after Gleeson got the slightest of touches on it. Portland then had a fantastic chance to retake the lead when Lucas Melano put a cross right on Adi’s feet six yards from goal, but Adi sent it just wide.
But in the 74th minute, Valeri conjured a bit of magic from 30 yards out on a free kick, perfectly placing it just out of the reach of Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin to put the Timbers up 2-1.
Gleeson would need to make two more excellent saves on a Bradley strike and Johnson point-blank header, but the defense held and Portland earned the 2-1 victory and the three points.
For the first time since Portland’s opening game victory over Columbus back on March 6, the all-important spine of the team was intact. Liam Ridgewell missed the past seven games with a hamstring injury, while Nagbe and Valeri also missed time through the first nine games.
The completeness of the roster shone through on the field as well. “I thought the first 25-30 minutes was the best 25-30 minutes of the year,” Caleb Porter said after the game. Even after a midweek game cross-country, Portland came out with a strong effort that ranked among their best of the year.
Despite their early-season struggles, Portland is still primed for a run of positive results, particularly if the team’s improving health can be maintained. The team is still missing goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and starting right back Alvas Powell, but for the first time since that Columbus game it can be said Portland is relatively healthy.
And when they are healthy, this is one of the most dangerous lineups in all of MLS. Valeri, Nagbe, Chara, and Adi are all known quantities, and Melano is improving with seemingly every game, as he grows more and more confident in his abilities and in his place in the Timbers lineup. As has been the case since his arrival, if Melano fully comes into his own and the lineup is consistent enough for him to get comfortable, Portland’s attack can jump to another level, even beyond what took them to the championship last fall.
But that is a long-term goal for Caleb Porter to reach for as the season progresses. In the short-term, Portland still sits in seventh place in the absolutely loaded Western Conference, and Caleb Porter’s squad must face another three-games-in-eight-days stretch. First, Portland must travel to Vancouver next Saturday followed immediately by a second road game five days later in Dallas, against an FC Dallas squad that thoroughly dismantled the Timbers in Providence Park two weeks ago, before finally coming home on May 15 to host NYCFC.
It’s a difficult stretch to be sure, but one that seems much more manageable after seeing what a healthy Portland Timbers squad is capable of.
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