Good teams beat the opponents they’re supposed to. Very good teams leave no doubt.
Right now, the Portland Timbers are playing like a very good team. And facing a reeling Chivas USA side on Sunday, the Timbers left absolutely no doubt.
There was never a question who the superior side was on Mother’s Day, as Portland dominated the Goats from the crack of the starter’s pistol. Portland was unlucky not to go up in the tenth minute, as Michael Harrington picked Diego Valeri out at the far post, but the trialing hand of backup Rojiblanco keeper, Patrick McLain, made a Kennedyesque save to turn the Argentine’s header away.
Portland unlocked Chivas again two minutes later, as Valeri found Futty streaking into the box, but the Gambian’s classy chip over McLain was negated by a proper offside call.
The Timbers continued to dominate, and in the 32nd minute showed the most striking example of the scintillating buildup play that has marked their marked reformation in 2013. After Diego Valeri recovered the ball in the defensive third, he one-timed forward for Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe immediately played out wide to Diego Chara who sent the ball up the touchline to Ryan Johnson. The striker promptly back-heeled to a suddenly free Nagbe, and the Timbers were off to the races. The prodigy cleverly used his body and space to bring the ball into the middle, where he played it to Valeri on the left. Valeri cut back and unleashed a right-footed shot that left McLain helpless, only to be kept out by the crossbar in a manifest miscarriage of justice. At the beginning of that sequence, the Timbers moved 50 yards through the Goats’ midfield with four touches of the ball. That is how football is meant to be played.
Justice, however, has a habit of being served. And two minutes later, Donovan Ricketts helped deliver it on a silver platter. After gathering the remnants of a Chivas corner, Ricketts threw out to Valeri near midfield. Valeri played back into the center for Ryan Johnson, who chipped into the path of an onrushing Rodney Wallace on Chivas’s vulnerable right flank. Wallace nodded the ball down and lofted the ball over McLain for the opener.
Chivas’s only real chance of the half – and, if we’re being honest, of the game – came in the 44th minute, as Edgar Mejia’s corner found Steve Purdy-Ramos nine yards out at the back post, but his reentry header was handled cleanly by Ricketts.
The second half was more of the same. While Portland didn’t hold quite as much of the ball, and had a couple moments of loose defending, Chivas never seriously threatened to equalize.
And in the 70th minute, the Timbers would take the next step toward turning this one into a laugher. After Ryan Johnson gathered near the byline and played back to Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace flashed in the middle of the field. Wallace gathered the ball and slipped it into the box, where Valeri had just run by the Goats’ defense, and the Argentine coolly slotted past McLain to ensure that his third time was the charm.
Chivas were beaten, and for a moment the Timbers seemed satisfied to knock the ball around the midfield and let the clock wind down.
But Will Johnson hadn’t yet had his dance party. Wanting to get in on the action, the Captain streaked into the box from seemingly nowhere in the second minute of stoppage time, and got on the end of a low Frederic Piquionne cross, but McLain made another nice save to knock it out for a corner kick.
The Timbers took the ensuing corner short, as Kalif Alhassan gathered it and played to Will Johnson at the corner of the box. Johnson took a pair of touches toward the center of the field, and unleashed a right-footed shot from the top of the box that curled around McLain’s outstretched hand and inside the far post.
While a couple results in a row had slipped away from the Timbers, there was nothing Chivas could have done on Sunday to overcome Portland’s pressure. The gulf between the two teams was just too great, and as very good teams should do, the Timbers ran away from the Goats and never looked back.
Notes & Observations
- After the match, Caleb Porter emphasized that the Timbers would “keep this high low,” and was equivocal about whether he considered this Portland’s best effort of the season. Asked whether Sunday was the team’s best performance to date, Porter retorted, “Ah, not really. I think based on result you could call it that, but I’m looking at the performance and looking at all the little plays in the game, and you guys are always looking at the score, and a three-zero game doesn’t mean it was your best performance just because it was your widest margin of victory.” Porter added, “For me, we’re just scratching the surface of the team that we can be.”
- I largely agree with Porter’s assessment. Especially in the second half, there was just a little bit of shaky defending and passing that the Timbers didn’t show, for example, against Houston. While it wasn’t enough to ever give Chivas serious hope, it wasn’t quite a perfect half from the Timbers. It was still pretty darn good, though.
- Portland was once again aggressive attacking down the left side. This is, in no small part, because of the magnificence that has been Rodney Wallace’s last month. Against Chivas, though, it could have also been something Portland saw on tape. Both two weeks ago against San Jose, and last week against Sporting Kansas City, Shea Salinas and Graham Zusi gored the Goats down the left side. Add Rodney Wallace – and company – to that list, as the Timbers once again had good success on the right side of Chivas’s defense.
Donovan Ricketts, 6 – Not much for Ricketts to do today, but on the rare occasion Chivas had a sliver of intent, Ricketts was there to put the kybosh on any ambition.
Michael Harrington, 3.5 – Another rough day for Harrington, as his defending on the left side was by far the least consistent aspect of the Timbers’ performance on Sunday. It remains to be seen whether this is just a little bit of a rough patch for Harrington, or whether his string of solid performances in April was the aberration.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 5 – A better performance for AJB on Sunday, as he distributed well and stayed way from the mistakes that have cost Portland in the past. Still got a little handsy from time to time, but nothing like he was against Dallas.
Futty, 5.5 – Was intent on scoring on Sunday, but just couldn’t quite make it happen. Had the one chance called back for offside and another header sail just high. Futty’s grade is depressed just a little bit by some poor marking on corners that allowed Chivas to find some free headers.
Jack Jewsbury, 6 – Another solid day for Jack. While Jewsbury will rarely generate headlines from high fullback position, his consistency there is something the Timbers haven’t had at that position in quite some time.
Will Johnson, 7.5 – Great goal, and just all around good work from Johnson. If he was a little bit off on Wednesday, he shook that off in a hurry, as he was very good against Chivas.
Diego Chara, 7.5 – Probably unlucky not to get on the scoresheet today, as Diego again flaunted his newfound offensive game to go along with his defensive dominance. In a little bit of a passing slump, however, as he only completed 49 of 55 today, for a measly 89% completion percentage.
Diego Valeri, 8 – Clinical finish on his goal, and got absolutely robbed twice more – once on a fantastic save and the second time by the crossbar.
Rodney Wallace, 8.5 – I’m not sure what to say about Rodney that I haven’t said in the past several weeks, so I’ll let Caleb Porter do the talking. “Rodney Wallace is having a breakout year. I’m not sure why he hasn’t had a breakout year up to this point, because I think clearly he’s one of the better wingers in the league, and he’s really flourishing.”
Darlington Nagbe, 6 – A little bit subtler from Nagbe on Sunday, but pretty effective. Though he wasn’t as directly involved in many of the buildups, he often played a crucial role form a deeper lying position, including in the second goal.
Ryan Johnson, 5.5 – Really nice chipped assist on the first goal, but for goodness sake, Ryan, get onside.
Kalif Alhassan, 6 – One of his better performances off the bench. Solid passing from Kalif earned him an assist on Will Johnson’s goal.
Ben Zemanski, 5.5 – A like-for-like swap with Jack Jewsbury, Zemanski came on and played well at right back again. If Harrington continues to struggle, the answer may be to move Jack back to the left – where he was perfectly adequate – and bring Zemanski in on the right where he may provide a little bit more offense.
Frederic Piquionne, 4 – Saves his grade a little with a nice cross to Will Johnson in stoppage time, but overall this was one of Frederic’s bizarrely ineffective performances.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 2, Goats 0. Valeri, Silvestre.
Actual Result: Timbers 3, Goats 0. Wallace, Valeri, Will Johnson.
Onward, Rose City!
 There seems to be a little bit of an inverse relationship between the quality of the Timbers’ play and Porter’s postgame demeanor with the press. In addition to repeating his suggestion that the assembled media only care about the scoreline, Porter took the MLS website to task for publishing headlines suggesting the Timbers were cocky. “As much as MLS Soccer tries to create headlines that make us cocky, we’re not a cocky team. I’m not a cocky coach. I’m very humble, my players are very humble, and we don’t get too high or low, we don’t talk trash. MLS Soccer puts headlines up that make it seem like that – unfairly. The reality is we’re very humble, we go into every game and we respect our opponent. We don’t think we’re going to walk out on the field and just automatically, magically win games. We know we have to put the work in for ninety minutes to get out of the game what we want. The reason we’ve been on a nine-game run without losing is because we stay humble and hungry, and we don’t get complacent or overconfident. So as much as MLS Soccer is trying to paint us that way, that’s not the way we are.” As Jerry Maguire’s rival agent, Bob Sugar, put it, “it’s not ‘show friends,’ it’s ‘show business.’”
 I don’t think we’re at a point where this should be seriously considered just yet, but Harrington’s seat in the starting eleven is warming gradually. Probably not much more than lukewarm right now, though.