Portland Timbers’ Title Run Keyed by Depth, Defense
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
It was the perfect end to what turned into a dream season for Caleb Porter's squad after weathering some early difficulties and a mid-season swoon that left the team and their supporters wondering if Portland would even make the playoffs. But since a late-season tactical switch by Porter, Darlington Nagbe's potential suddenly turned into production, Fanendo Adi suddenly morphed into one of the league's top strikers, and Valeri finally began to rise to the level he displayed all through the 2013 and 2014 seasons prior to his ACL injury.
Make no mistake however; while Valeri and Rodney Wallace provided the highlights, this Timbers team won, as they have all season, on the strength of their defense. For all the noise and print about Porter's shift to the single-pivot and Nagbe and Adi's burgeoning stardom, it was a rear guard among the best in the league that carried the Timbers while the goals were few and far between, and continued to be the constant throughout the playoff run.
Portland's back four of Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, and Jorge Villafaña along with defensive midfielder Diego Chara were immense all game, allowing only one shot on goal by a Columbus Crew squad that scored the second-most goals in the entire league this season and featured Golden Boot winner (along with Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco) Kei Kamara.
Villafaña in particular, who is probably the most anonymous member of the Portland back line, put in a fantastic shift, absolutely shutting down MLS All-Star Ethan Finlay, who was taken out of the game so completely that Columbus subbed Finlay off in the 63rd minute. Finlay had told reporters prior to the game that “...on the right side going against Villafaña, I like that matchup.” Villafaña referenced the comments after the game, and it was clear that a little extra motivation was gained from Finlay's dismissive remarks. After the game, many media outlets felt that Villafaña was the game's true MVP.
With Villafaña taking away one side of the field, Ridgewell and Borchers were able to stay at home and do what they've done all season, clearing out any balls coming in the box and consistently winning headers that made goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey's day largely uneventful, save for one gaffe of his own that led to Columbus' only shot (and goal) of the day.
Truly though, this playoff and championship run was made even greater in that every single regular (and some not-so-regular) Timbers player had a special moment: Uruuti's extra-time goal and Adam Kwarasey's shootout performance against Kansas City, Jake Gleeson and Jack Jewsbury stepping in for Kwarasey and Chara against Vancouver, Dairon Asprilla's wonder-strike and Lucas Melano's dribble against Dallas; this run mirrored Portland's season in that it was truly a team effort from top to bottom, and I doubt Coach Porter or the Timbers faithful would have had it any other way.
The sad reality of professional sports means that Sunday was the last time Portland will ever get to see that Timbers team play together. Monday morning it was already announced that Uruuti's option was declined by the club and he will be playing elsewhere next year; Rodney Wallace's contract expired and it is uncertain as to whether he will be back with the club, with the Timbers already committed to Asprilla and Melano for the future.
But there will be time for that discussion in the coming days and weeks; today, the Timbers are the champions, and the city of Portland could not be more excited.
Related Slideshow: 10 Vines Celebrating the Portland Timbers Season
- Timbers Record 3rd Consecutive Victory
- Timbers One Game Away From Champions League Quarterfinals
- Timbers Look To Control Playoff Destiny
- Timbers Shift Into Playoff Contention
- Timbers Take 3-1 Victory in First Leg of Conference Championship
- Timbers v. Alpha United: A Chance To Advance
- Timbers Tally Victory In Stoppage Time
- Timbers Headed to MLS Final
- Timbers Eliminate Sounders From the U.S. Open Cup
- The Timbers And Whitecaps Draw at 1-1
- The Portland Timbers’ Guide to the Final Week of MLS
- The Timbers Dismantle The Sounders
- Timbers Better Buckle Down
- Timbers Draw LA Galaxy 2-2 with 90th Minute Mayhem
- Timbers Cruise Past the Houston Dynamo
- Timbers v. Earthquakes: Three Things We Learned
- What Portland Timbers Coach Caleb Porter Needs To Do In Year 3
- What Is Happening To The Portland Timbers?
- What Does “Targeted Allocation Money” Mean for the Timbers?
- What To Watch For From The Portland Timbers
- Who Deserves The Captain’s Armband: Timbers v. Earthquakes
- Will Fanendo Adi’s Struggles Doom the Portland Timbers?
- Why The Timbers Won’t Make the 2014 Playoffs
- What Does Signing Lucas Melano Mean for the Portland Timbers?
- VIDEO: Timbers Championship Highlights
- Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake: 3 Things We Learned From The Timbers’ 0-0 Draw
- Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake: 3 Things We Learned From The Game
- Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Three Things To Watch
- Timbers’ Offensive Firepower Balanced by Defensive Woes
- TIMBERS WIN MLS Championship
- The Portland Timbers and Why We Love Sports
- Standing (And Flying) with the Timbers Army
- How Could The U.S Men’s National Team Benefit From Portland Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe?
- Game Preview: Portland Timbers vs. New York Red Bulls
- Five Thoughts On The Timbers’ Schedule
- How Should the Portland Timbers Use a Healthy Diego Valeri?
- How They Stand: Portland Timbers Update
- Numbers to Know: Timbers v. Real Salt Lake
- Jack Jewsbury: Timbers Fans Are Key to Soccer Team’s Success
- Diego Valeri’s Back: What does it mean for the Portland Timbers?
- Diego Valeri Steps Up For The Timbers
- 20 Places to Watch the Timbers in the MLS Cup
- 11 Moments that Led the Portland Timbers to the Brink of a Title
- Bumps and Bruises Will Define Portland Timbers’ Early Slate
- Defensive Lapses Doom Timbers
- Championship Bound: The Portland Timbers’ Best 10 Wins This Season
- PBOT Urges Timbers Fans to Bike, Walk, or Take TriMet to March 7 Game
- Portland Timbers Draw on the Road Against San Jose
- Portland Timbers Western Conference Finals Preview – Will Johnson’s Final Stand?
- Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Match Preview
- Portland Timbers Unable To Capture Second Victory
- Portland Timbers’ Report Card: Who Excelled and Who Flunked?
- Portland Timbers: Highlights And Lowlights So Far This Season
- Spotted In Portland: Patrick Stewart is a Timbers Fan
- Ronaldinho Heading to MLS: Could He Be the Portland Timbers’ New Designated Player?
- Portland Timbers Switch Up Lineup, Smash Seattle
- Portland Timbers Sign Lucas Melano
- Portland Timbers Fall to the Vancouver Whitecaps
- Portland Timbers Draw Opener, Provide Flashes Of Better Things To Come
- Portland Timbers Fall To Their Northwest Rivals
- Portland Timbers Hit Rock Bottom In Honduras
- Portland Timbers Pick Up Michael Seaton From D.C. United
- Portland Timbers Just Can’t Seem to Get Out of Their Own Way
- 10 Vines Celebrating the Portland Timbers Season