As the first half of the of the Timbers match in Houston last week came to a close, it looked as if the boys in green were poised to grab their first victory of the season. They could have hit the ground running coming home.
After going down to a streak-busting goal from Will Bruin in the 16’, the Timbers were able to equalize barely 17 minutes later when Gaston "La Gata" Fernandez pounced (pun intended) on a fortuitous bounce off of Brad Davis and fired a beautiful shot into the top-near corner with his first touch. The immediate response to Houston’s first goal in 319 minutes, and Bruin’s first in five matches, creates a mixed bag of emotions.
Life signs from Portland, on the road, in the heat, are encouraging. So is La Gata’s third goal in four starts (he is scoreless in four appearances as a substitute.) On the other hand, Houston were ripe for the picking, and the Timbers failed to land the fatal blow. The second half didn’t as much raise eyebrows as it did close eyelids. Aside from a 66’ indirect free kick, Houston barely challenged Donovan Ricketts’s cage—nor did Portland bother goalkeeper Tally Hall—and the match ended in a vapid 1-1 draw.
Portland Timbers vs. DC United
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. PST
Providence Park, Root Sports
Portland now begin a crucial—nearing on critical—three match home stand this weekend. Prodigal “MLS 1.0” side D.C. United comes to town with a revamped lineup and a number of familiar Western Conference villains in tow. The Timbers struggled with the physicality of Houston's lone striker Will Bruin. Now, Portland must find a way to contain DC's two forwards: former RSL enigma Fabiàn Espindola, scorer of three goals in his last two matches, and four overall, and Eddie Johnson, who's found the back of the net at Providence Park as a Sounder.
Johnson has yet to score this season, despite having played more minutes than Chris Wondolowski (3 goals), Quincy Amarikwa (4), Blas Perez (3), and Robbie Keane (4). Though he has traded his “rave green” shirt for a color that actually appears in nature, there is nothing Johnson would love more than to break his duck in Portland. That is, if he recovers from the hamstring injury that forced him off after 50 minutes last week.
The entirety of United’s success so far this season has come at home, and they have scored one single goal on the road, but in only two matches. Overall, D.C. are seven points improved from this point last season, with a goal difference shift from -10 to +2. This, thanks largely in part to former Galaxy defender, Sean Franklin and another former Fishing Village employee, Jeff Parke, who have plugged up D.C’s porous back line. Couple that with midfield stability from veteran Davy Arnaud, and Perry Kitchen—one of the few remaining MLS Akron Zips from Caleb Porter’s 2010 National Championship team not wearing Timbers Green.
Remarkably, Portland sits just five points below the playoff line, with more than two-thirds of the season ahead. But they are currently dead last in the Supporters Shield standings. The Timbers simply cannot afford to sputter along in the manner they have: conceding the first goal, squandering leads, and simply giving up. The next 270 minutes of soccer at Providence Park could very well tell the story of this season.
It’s now or never.