A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo.
1.) Wow. So this is what it feels like to root for a good team. Nay, a dominant team.
Show someone the video from last night’s second half and ask them, “Which team is leading their conference?” “Which team has been to the MLS Cup finals four times in the last 6 years?” “Which team sets the standard for consistent excellence?” Anyone watching that second half would answer you, “Obviously, it’s the Timbers.”
We have now seen how good this team can be and it is good. Very good. If we can build on last night’s second-half performance, this team is going to be scary.
2.) But before I get too carried away, let’s start by talking about the first half.
Weird half, wasn’t it? First, not one, but two of our starters are lost to injury. So that sucked. And then, didn’t we look a little choppy? Particularly when we got anywhere near Houston’s goal. We were pretty good in the defensive third, pretty good in the middle third, but we had nothing in the final third. We’d get close to their 18-yard box and just hit a brick wall. I’m not sure Ryan Johnson touched the ball the entire first half. Was it Houston’s defense flummoxing us or were we making tactical mistakes?
Whatever the reason, it was a weird half. We weren’t awful, mind you, just a little frustrating.
3) Now… let’s talk about the starting XI. Putting Jack Jewsbury at RB didn’t surprise me. But starting Rodney Wallace did.
The thing is, both guys played well. Very well. I think they’re both going to be starting for the foreseeable future. Jack seemed much more defensive-minded than Michael Harrington was over at LB and I think this was by design. With Jack staying closer to home, the back line was solid. In fact, it’s a bit astonishing how solid they are, considering it’s been a different starting lineup every single game.
As far as Wallace goes, well done, sir! Rodney played beautifully all night. He was disruptive on D and dangerous on O. I think the guy’s earn a spot in the XI.
4.) But what will that XI look like? Clearly, David Horst will be out for awhile. But what about Diego Valeri? Did that nasty elbow merely ring his bell? Or will this turn into a Sidney Crosby situation, where Valeri’s out for weeks on end? I’m going to assume he’ll be back next week.
So who’s spot does he take? Wallace’s or Alhassan’s? Both looked great yesterday. In fact, everyone looked great. So who does Valeri replace? Nagbe? No way. Ryan Johnson? You don’t get benched after scoring two goals. Will Johnson or Diego Chara? No chance, and anyway, they’re defensive. So I think if Valeri comes back next week, it’s Alhassan who sits, even though he was great yesterday. Sorry, Jazz Hands, but we can’t play twelve men.
I’m really tempted now to talk about what formation we’ll play — the 4-2-3-1 of the first half or the 4-4-2 of the second half — but I’m gonna let Kevin Alexander weigh in on that. He knows a whole lot more about that kind of stuff than I do. I will say, however, that whatever we were doing in that second half, maybe we should keep it up.
5.) Speaking of which, you know the only thing better than watching the Timbers storm back from behind? Watching them play with a lead.
You do realize that when Ryan Johnson scored his first goal, it was our first lead of the entire season. And, man alive! Pity the team that lets us get a lead!
Last year, when we got a lead, we would dial back the intensity, pull back into a defensive position, and just try to survive. This year? Forget leading by one goal. The Timbers want to lead by seven goals! And I don’t see how the other team can stop us. As soon as we got the lead, Houston started pressing forward, which just led to more opportunities for us! Johnson got his second goal (a beauty, by the way), but there were almost goals from Wallace, from Nagbe (twice), even from Piquionne (who was so pumped up, he fired a rocket at the goalie five seconds after entering the game). We looked so dangerous with the lead, I honestly think that if Caleb Porter had called me down from the stands and put me into the game, I would have scored a goal (and then ripped my jersey off, run around like a freak show, stolen Timber Joey’s chainsaw, and cut my own slab. And yes, I’ve imagined this in my head quite a few times. Please don’t judge me.).
6) I cannot tell you how optimistic I am about the rest of the season. You can accuse me of joining Caleb Porter’s cult if you want (and, by the way, does he have a cult? Because if he does, I’d totally join…), but I think this new playing style has finally clicked, I think Porter is very close to figuring out what lineup works best, and I’m no longer questioning if we can make the playoffs. We will. There’s no doubt. The only question is whether we’ll be the number one seed.
We’ve proven we can come from behind. We’ve proven we can go on the road and get a point. We’ve proven we can get a lead and then keep it. We’ve proven we can completely dominate another team. What’s left to prove? Doing this consistently, I guess. Winning on the road, I guess. But I really think it’ll happen.
New coach, new players, new system. Basically, we’re an expansion team. And only five games in, we can dominate a first-place team like we did last night?
So this is what it feels like to root for a good team.