The Timbers came into this fixture looking at 3 home games out of their remaining 4 in the regular season. No doubt the target was 9 points from those 3 matches, so this was a great start to their closing stretch.
Orlando had a mathematical chance of sneaking into the play-offs but already looked to be experimenting with a view to next year. Kaká, masterful in his last outing in Portland 2 years ago, could only watch from the bench as Jason Kreis tried unsuccessfully to recapture the glory-days of his RSL diamond midfield.
In 2015 Adrian Heath brought an expansion team to Portland and came away with a 2-0 win. Diego Valeri was absent, rehabbing his repaired ACL and Caleb Porter was running a 442 with Adi and Urruti. Deploying a 433 Orlando took full advantage of the extra man in midfield, that extra man being Kaká certainly helped, and passed their way to victory. It was a tactical mismatch that day and Portland’s 442 was quickly consigned to the scrapheap.
Today was another tactical mismatch, but on this occasion the home team were very much on top. This time the visitors were in 442 diamond and seemed to want to hold a very high defensive line, perhaps to compress the space in the middle to compensate for their numerical disadvantage. That might have made sense on paper, but with Darren Mattocks making constant excellent runs across the center backs and Portland in possession of 3 players (Blanco, Valeri and Chara) well capable of delivering a well timed through-ball, it did not make sense on the field of play.
Mattocks forced a good save from Bendik after only 2 minutes, in a move started by some excellent quick distribution by Jeff Attinella. On 12 minutes Chara rolled a superbly weighted ball into the left channel – Spector had the correct position, but Mattocks just took the long way round him and was still able to step across in front at the last second making Spector’s lunge for the ball catch his ankle instead. Baldomero Toledo unsurprisingly waved play on, but Drew Fischer in the VAR box brought his attention to his ‘clear and obvious error’. That was Fischer’s second PK award from the VAR box to the Timbers following his intervention in the Colorado game last month – the Army might have finally found an official they actually like.
Valeri dispatched the penalty with little fuss, extending his consecutive game MLS scoring record to 9.
Fifteen minutes later it was Asprilla’s turn to get behind the Orlando defense – again it was Chara with through-ball, this time into the right channel. Asprilla arrived in the right side of the penalty area and his simple, low cross to the far post was finished by a sliding Mattocks. Having a fast orthodox winger helps bring out the best in Mattocks. This game was one where his team (helped by that ambitiously high Orlando line) finally played to his strengths instead of serving him balls to hold up like they would for Adi.
It was bad enough for the visitors to be 2-0 down at the half, but within minutes of the start of the second half they were also a man down. Spector needlessly clattered into Valeri leaving Toledo no option but to show him a second yellow card. It was not a good day for the former Manchester United, West Ham and Birmingham City man.
Portland dominated the second half, adding a third goal in the 59th minute. A nice interchange between Blanco and Valeri freed Mattocks in the box again, a defender and Bendik seemed to have done enough to save his shot, but the rebound fell kindly for Valeri, who made no mistake.
His second of the game was Valeri’s 20th goal of the season to send him one clear of MVP rival David Villa in the golden boot race – quite a feat for a midfielder.
Having demonstrated the kind of powerful running that make him a nightmare for defenders, Mattocks then started to demonstrate the kind of finishing that make him a nightmare for coaches. He lacks the clinical finishing that would have made him a top striker in this league. But it was still a great day for the Jamaican, he got his goal and while Valeri’s pair will go down as unassisted he was instrumental in both.
Portland should really have tallied 5 or 6 goals in this game, Asprilla and Ebobisse also made Bendik look good in one on one situations.
Orlando’s transition from soccer club to Mickey Mouse club was complete 6 minutes from time when the Brazilian substitute known only as ‘PC’ gave Toledo probable cause to reach for his red card by elbowing Chara as they tussled for position in the wall facing a free-kick. At time of press it can be confirmed that the Chara smile was not damaged.
The win meant Portland kept pace with Vancouver and Kansas at the top of the table, though both those clubs have played 2 less games. Portland’s trip to San Jose for the next game will be tricky as the Earthquakes are battling for the final play-off spot. But with two home games to close out the season it looks like the Timbers should gather enough points for a top 4 spot, guaranteeing a home play-off game.
For more photos from the ProstAmerika team see the full gallery.