Portland 3 : 0 Colorado
By: Christopher Hardwicke
Monday Morning Centerbacking is always fun here at Prost Amerika, but for a Portland beat writer, this Monday is a little bit different.
Things have taken quite the turn in the Rose City.
The Timbers are currently tied for first place in the Western Conference sitting on thirty points. They have a goal scoring armada that opponents are having a hard time figuring out. Their defense is shutting down just about everything that the opposing team throws at it. They have a keeper that is keeping a clean sheet on a consistent basis.
Yet the doubters are asking themselves some very pressing questions:
“When is the other shoe going to drop? Are we going to wake up to the reality that our team is actually mired near the bottom of the table? Is someone going to pinch me and will we wake up and realize that this is nothing more than a dream?”
The answer is no on all accounts. This Timbers side is the real deal. And the drubbing that they dropped on a very spirited Colorado squad that had a lot to play for on Sunday is proof.
Caleb Porter came to Portland with the very difficult job of fielding a team that could take a young MLS side that has been mired in mediocrity since its top flight inception and turning it into a club that can win on a consistent basis.
Halfway through the season, he has shown that he can do exactly that.
After a shaky first ten minutes at a rainy Jeld-Wen Field, Caleb Porter’s Timbers righted the ship and sent a message to the rest of MLS. That message is that the Timbers are currently among the best two or three teams in the league, and intend to remain so.
Stellar performances by Will Johnson, Frederic Piquionne and Rodney Wallace back it up.
While most MLS sides have a player or two that consistently put balls in the back of the net, Portland is making the statement that they are a true team effort. Opponents are proving to never know where the danger is coming from. If they decide that they are going to put the pressure on Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne step up. If pressure is placed on the attacking forwards, the central midfield moves in and scores goals.
And so forth.
It’s difficult to nail down who is the best and brightest on this Portland side because their success is truly is a team effort. When it comes to scoring, Will Johnson leads the pack with six goals, some admittedly from set pieces. This may pale in comparison to Marco De Vaio or Mike Magee who are sitting on ten apiece. But lets take a look at who’s bringing up the rear.
Ryan Johnson has five. Darlington Nagbe also has five. Diego Valeri has four. Rodney Wallace also has four. Piquionne, Zemanski and Valencia have also opened their accounts.
Collectively, Portland’s team effort has fired an engine that has created the top offense in MLS.
Lets take a look at some of Sunday’s plays that show why Portland is in such a commanding position.
Will Johnson started the fireworks in the 21st minute smartly as he caught Colorado sleeping on a quick restart.
Rodney Wallace was right there on the same page as the captain as he nudged a cross towards a lurking Piquionne.
The Frenchman found the woodwork once again, but this time the angle was in his favor and the ball found the top netting.
This goal is the result of focused players that are on the same page together. And there would be more to come.
In the waning minutes of the first half, Donovan Ricketts put a goal kick right to the awaiting head of Piquionne who flicked the ball forward to Rodney Wallace. Wallace held the ball up at the corner of the box just long enough for Will Johnson to get free on a run through the middle.
Wallace calmly slotted the ball to the Canadian who chipped the ball over a confounded Nathan Sturgis and then volleyed it into the far corner for the second.
Again, it was a team effort that resulted in an epic goal. No one player was to receive all the credit, the team got the result. And there was more to come.
It would happen once again in the final moments of the game. The trio of Wallace and fresh substitutes Ryan Zemanski and Ryan Johnson broke loose down the left flank. Zemanski shuttled a pass to Wallace who quickly sent it on to a wide open Ryan Johnson who finished on Clinton Irwin with clinical effectiveness. It would be Wallace’s third assist of the game and Ryan Johnson’s fifth goal of the season.
And let’s not discount the defense. Portland’s back four had more than one stingy situation to deal with. The game started clearly in Colorado’s favor, and the Portland defense did well to keep their composure until the rest of the team found their footing. Also, keep in mind that Colorado put eighteen shots on goal. Portland’s defensive corps certainly didn’t have a cakewalk.
Case in point in the 58th minute. Nick LaBrocca clearly outpaced Ryan Miller and took a great pass from Deshorn Brown that had almost the entire Portland defense clustered near the near post. Only the timely interference of Jack Jewsbury stopped Colorado from getting one back. It would appear that Portland’s defense is clearly up to the challenge.
Portland are currently dangerous on the attack, but are confident and clean when cleaning up attacks that penetrate the defensive third of the pitch.
In addition, Portland is on a goal scoring rampage with no one specific player to credit and a stunning defense that kept their goal clear. Caleb Porter has created a side that truly holds up the definition of the word team. Even after going up 3-nil, Porter was stalwart in keeping the clean sheet. This coach demands perfection and total concentration, and his players are responding in kind.
Portland finishes up the first half of the season sitting comfortably on thirty points and a share of the top of the table. The side extended it’s unbeaten streak to fifteen games bringing them ever closer to the league record of nineteen.
Portland travels to Dallas on Wednesday for US Open Cup action and then enjoys a bye week while dreaming of the Supporter’s Shield. Colorado travels to Montreal to face the Eastern Conference powerhouse in a match that either confirms a firm hand on the play-offs if the Rapids lose, or allows a little more time at the top otherwise.
As it stands, Portland is in about the best situation it could find itself in. Atop of the Western Conference with opponents confounded on how to figure them out. Caleb Porter was quick to point out that, despite the theatrics, nothing has been accomplished yet.
“We really haven’t done anything. We have thirty points in the first half but we have to keep getting points. So at the end of the year we can start crediting people but no one should be getting credit right now.”
Porter admits that the club clearly still has a lot of work to do. By his own words, his boys are merely “scratching the surface” when it comes to the side they can become. But as it stands now, they seem poised for to greatness in 2013. Apparently, its just a matter of keeping up the hard work.
Clearly, there is no magic, just a bunch of guys who really want to win. This is a scenario that the Rose City has not seen in a long, long time.