It doesn’t get any better than that.
With league-leading FC Dallas coming to town, commentators throughout the week were asking whether Portland could win games against elite opponents. They won’t be musing about that next week.
In one of the most thrilling games in Timbers’ MLS history, Darlington Nagbe’s 52nd minute wonder goal was the difference between what were clearly two of the best teams in the league.
The Timbers’ midfield opened the game in typically steady fashion, but once Portland entered the final third their dynamism often betrayed them.
In the 17th minute, however, Diego Valeri was unlucky not to find the opener. After the Timbers patiently worked the ball around the Burn box, Michael Harrington found space on the left and whipped a cross in toward the back post. Valeri was there to nod it to the ground, but the ball took a heavy bounce and glanced off the bar and over.
It was the other Diego that was robbed in the 39th minute, when Will Johnson’s free kick found Futty beyond the back post. Futty nodded across the face of goal where the ball deflected to Diego Chara in the box. Chara’s low putback looked destined for goal, but Raul Fernandez – who had chased the initial ball well beyond the back post – burst back in front of goal to make the save.
Not to be outdone, Donovan Ricketts came up huge just before halftime. With midfielders all over the field, Dallas worked the ball thirty yards out from goal to Fabian Castillo on the right wing. The original young DP played the ball back to the top of the box where Jackson was waiting all alone, but the Brazilian’s dangerous strike was knocked away by a heroically diving Ricketts.
Despite a bevy of chances both ways and a wide-open game, neither team could find the back of the net in the first half. In a game like that every good team needs an individual to step up, make a play, and secure the three points.
On Saturday, the Portland Timbers had Darlington Nagbe.
In the 52nd minute, Kalif Alhassan fed Nagbe on the left side of the box, where George John appeared to have the future U.S. international bottled up. With his back toward goal, however, Nagbe struck a brilliant no-look shot that curled past Fernandez and into the far side netting.
The Timbers weren’t done, however. Seven minutes later, Will Johnson made a brilliant run through the midfield and played Piquionne through, but his shot from a tough angle rattled the near post.
But for more Fernandez heroics, the Timbers would have doubled the lead in the 68th minute, when Kalif Alhassan lofted a beautiful ball to Valeri in the box. Valeri controlled magnificently and hit a volley from close distance, but Fernandez reacted remarkably and knocked the ball away.
With as much quality as Dallas has, however, it would have been impossible to completely eliminate their chances, and the Hoops had none better than Jackson’s in the 72nd minute. After a sloppy giveaway by Will Johnson, Jackson sped by the remaining Timbers defense and found himself one-on-one with Ricketts. The Jamaican made himself big, however, and Jackson sent his shot from the top of the box well high.
Five minutes later, Diego Chara capped off his hard working, bad luck day when Darlington Nagbe flicked a beautiful ball to put Chara through on goal, but the only thing he buried after rolling his shot toward the far post was his head in his hands.
The Timbers were well in control, however, and once Ricketts smothered a dangerous Fabian Castillo cross a minute into stoppage time, the Timbers secured one of their biggest wins of the season.
The win puts Portland within two points of the top of the league and extends the team’s unbeaten streak to an improbable 13 matches. But the streak is not what Saturday will be remembered for. Rather, it will be remembered as one of the best MLS games played at Jeld-Wen Field won with a tremendous goal from Darlington Nagbe.
Notes & Observations
- The Timbers, at plus-nine, have the best goal difference, the most goals scored, and the best goals-per-game average in MLS. And for a defense that is supposed to be mediocre, PTFC has allowed the sixth fewest goals. Not too shabby.
- If there is a nit to pick, it’s that the Timbers are a mere fifth in scoring efficiency – the percentage of shots that result in goals – at 11.4%. It helps, however, that they’re third in total shots.
- Aside from the stoppage time chance, FCD looked like they ran out of gas a little bit in the last 15 minutes. Je-Vaughn Watson was the only attacking player on their bench, and he had to come on early when Hassli went down. As a result, Schellas Hyndman only used one substitute and had a lot of tired legs out there at game’s end.
Donovan Ricketts, 8 – Simply outstanding from Ricketts on Saturday. Didn’t set a foot wrong and came up big in several important moments.
Michael Harrington, 6 – He’s come out of his slump and settled in at left back. Although he wasn’t the focal point of Dallas’s offense, Harrington was solid defensively all day and got forward nicely a couple times to join the attack.
Pa Modou Kah, 4 – Still looks like he’s in the process of settling in. Kah wasn’t bad on Saturday, but he has a tendency to get caught out of position.
Futty, 6 – A pretty good day from Futty. Did well to get on the end of Will Johnson’s set piece only to be robbed of the assist by Fernandez. Whereas Kah is a risk taker in back, Futty is not, making them a logical pairing as long as Futty is healthy.
Jack Jewsbury, 4 – Had a tough task on Saturday, as Dallas were looking to attack down their left side with Fabian Castillo. He was up to the task, but just barely, as he was beat a handful of times – including on Dallas’s late chance.
Will Johnson, 6 – Pretty nice outing from Will. Was solid defensively, but had a number of nice runs forward, including to spring Piquionne on his shot that hit the post.
Diego Chara, 6.5 – Was robbed of a goal twice, and failed to finish his third chance – making more chances that Diego usually sees in a season – but if you look past those it was a typical Chara outing. Nine recoveries, 90% pass completion percentage, and a couple key passes.
Diego Valeri, 6.5 – Came oh-so-close twice with his first half header and brilliant second half strike that should have earned him a goal. Found a lot of room to run in Dallas’s aggressive midfield, and was a key part of a Timbers midfield that has to feel good about its outing.
Darlington Nagbe, 9 – Forget the goal for a moment. Darlington ran at Dallas like a madman all day, and had several nice combinations, notably including his magnificent pass to spring Chara through on goal. Now remember the goal. Saturday was Darlington’s best game as a Timber.
Kalif Alhassan, 6 – Didn’t have the most active outing, but Kalif had several nice moments, including his assist to Nagbe and entry ball to Valeri.
Frederic Piquionne, 5.5 – Had a couple moments where he could have done better, but he was fairly effective in the holdup game and in distributing to his other attacking players.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 5.5 – Couldn’t make the play when Jackson sped forward, but was effective in relief of Futty.
Ryan Johnson, 6 – A very good short stint for Ryan Johnson. Seemingly won every ball in his half of the field, held the ball up well late in the game, and nearly manufactured a goal out of nothing by contesting a ball that looked bound for Fernandez.
Ben Zemanski, 5.5 – A nice short shift as a defensive substitute for Kalif.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 1, FCD 0. Valeri.
Actual Result: Timbers 1, FCD 0. Nagbe.
Onward, Rose City!