OK, nobody panic ... yet.
Less than 1/7 the way through their second Major League Soccer season, the Timbers are facing some not-so-minor issues: They've struggled to maintain intensity for a full 90 minutes. They haven't been able to close out matches. Their confidence is waning.
Losers of their last four, Portland sits at the bottom of the Western Conference and is presently looking for a spark—hell, a wayward ember will do—to get its fledgling season on the right track.
Can they do it? You better f-in' believe they think so.
“A special play from Darlington (Nagbe), a big-time save from Troy (Perkins). Something that will spark this team,” said PTFC defender Mike Chabala. “I think once that ignites this is an electric team that will take off and have a 10-game run. It’s within us.”
Portland coach John Spencer maintains this very team has the quality to win games, but as reinforcements are brought in, one gets the feeling that it's time for the Timbers to right the ship—and fast. Enter Sporting Kansas City, the undisputed top team in the league, riding a historic 7-0-0 start into J-WF tonight for a 7:30 p.m. match (ROOT Sports, 970 AM).
On paper at least, the Timbers don't have a sporting chance against Kansas City tonight: KC is the second team in MLS history to win its first seven matches and have double the points of anyone else in the Eastern Conference, having outscored opponents 12-2 along the way. But Portland catches MLS' top team at the end of Sporting's busy west-coast swing, and KC will play its third game in eight days tonight. But paper tears and streaks are meant to be ceased—will a pair end tonight?
It's a stunningly lovely evening in Goose Hollow. And if you're silly enough to be indoors right now, you may as well click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the pitch.
A large police presence outside the stadium as PPD and Crime Stoppers are handing out flyers with information on a fatal hit-and-run on March 31 near 28th and Burnside following a Timbers match. Investigators are looking for a 1996-2008 Honda or Acura sedan with damage to the hood and front windshield, along with two women described as white females in their mid-20s, who were possibly wearing Timbers hats. Visit www.crimestoppersoforegon.com for more info.
Sporting Kansas City—Jimmy Nielsen in goal. Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic on defense. Julio Cesar, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Bobby Convey at midfield. Kei Kamara and CJ Sapong at forward. Nielsen is the captain and KC is sporting its matching powder blue blouses and shorts.
Portland—Troy Perkins in goal. Steve Purdy, Hanyer Mosquera, Eric Brunner and Mike Chabala on defense. Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Lovel Palmer and Diego Chará at midfield. Jorge Perlaza and Kris Boyd at forward. Jewsbury is the Cap'n and the Timbers are wearing their green jerseys and white shorts.
A different look to the Timbers' lineup, who move Nagbe and Palmer to midfield. Spencer is obviously looking for the right combination, but at a certain point—especially with Nagbe—there needs to be some consistency.
I'm guessing someone threw something on the pitch, because Timbers Army is chanting "Don't throw shit on the pitch!" Self-policing, FTW.
And away we go ...
1st minute—Foul at midfield is the first break in the action. Portland working toward the North end to start this one.
2nd—Nagbe with a bit of space and gets into the box. He plays it toward the middle to Jewsbury, but it's behind Cap'n Jack and KC has it. They're slowing things down and passing along the backline.
3rd—Timbers earn their first free kick after Besler heads it out. TA lets out a big, pent-up cheer.
4th—Jewsbury sends it in and Brunner comes flying in for a header, but it's high. Foul called on Boyd in the box.
7th—Chabala with three straight throw-ins and Portland inches down the west sideline.
8th—Timbers with some crisp passing at the top of the 18-yard box, but KC holds firm and Portland plays it all the way back.
9th—Sapong makes his way down the goal line and crosses in front to Kamara, who fires a wide-open shot right into Perkins. Troy bobbles it, but it's a big save early for Perkins, still looking for his 50th career MLS win.
11th—Ball played over the top for Boyd, but he's offside. He lumbers to chase it down and boots it over the goal, but it didn't matter.
13th—Chará plays one forward to Perlaza, who's offside. After KC gets it back to midfield, Chará with a great steal but a not-so-great pass to Boyd. It's behind him, and the crowd groans.
14th—Kamara swings it into the box for Convey, but Perkins comes off his line and leaps to grab it.
15th—Perlaza gets it to Chabala in the corner and tries to split the KC defense and earn a foul, but there's no call. Chabala doesn't like it, and jaws at the referee all the way back to his spot.
16th—Nagbe plays one ahead to Boyd, but he can't quite come up with it. KC clears and it looks like Boyd is in for a physical night with the KC defense.
18th—KC gets a corner after Sapong manages a shot in the box. Zusi swings it in but it's all the way through, with a slight touch by Collin. Timbers goal kick.
20th—Purdy "trips" Convey and KC gets a free kick from 40 yards out. Zusi drives it in low and Sapong gets a header on it, but it's wide. Nothing doing there, but Perkins isn't happy that KC again got to the ball before a Timbers defender on a set piece.
22nd—Purdy earns a yellow card after Espinoza gets behind him and Purdy is forced to foul. KC will have a free kick coming from a dangerous spot, about 25 yards out in the northeast corner of the box.
23rd—Zusi sends the free kick in on-goal, and Perkins is there to tip it just over the crossbar. KC earns a corner kick and Perkins comes off his line to snag it. Perkins goes to toss it back into play and throws it right off Palmer's back.
25th—Chabala lining up a free kick after a KC foul in their own end. He sends it in low and it's knocked out for a moment. Purdy gets it back in and Brunner gets a left-footed shot off, but it's no problem for Nielsen.
26th—On the counter, KC gets into Portland's 18-yard box at will and Myers lines up a shot. It's well high, and it'll be a Perkins goal kick.
27th—Nagbe finds Jewsbury just outside the box and Cap'n Jack cracks one, but it's right at a KC defender. Chabala goes down in the northwest corner, and he's staying down. Looks to be in pain, and the medical staff is attending to him.
28th—Chabala back on his feet, favoring his right ankle a bit. Appears to be OK, and good thing: Portland has just one other defender in their 18 tonight, and it's Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a center-back.
30th—Boyd called for a foul right in front of the Timbers bench. Spencer hates the call, but Boyd doesn't argue.
31st—Palmer levels a streaking Sapong along the west sideline and it's a foul on Portland.
33rd—After a Chabala foul, Zusi sends a free kick into the box from just inside midfield, but Portland defends.
37th—Chabala is tangled up with Kamara, and it's a foul just inside midfield. Zusi sends it in, and Purdy heads it away. That leads to Nagbe finding Perlaza streaking up the middle, but Sinovic does well to shield Perlaza and get it back to Nielsen.
39th—Chará earns a throw-in deep in KC's end. Portland gets it into the box and Chabala gets away an awkward left-footed shot, and KC knocks it away.
41st—Another deep throw for Portland, and KC briefly knocks it out, straight to Palmer. He cracks a one-time shot from 30 yards out, but it's well wide and over the goal line.
42nd—TIMBERS GOAL It's an own-goal off Myers. Chará finds Boyd behind the defense and down the northeast sideline, and Boyd sends it screaming into the box. Myers heads it to the left side of the goal and Portland leads 1-0.
44th—Sapong goes down and there's lots of pushing and shoving as both teams come together right in front of KC's bench. Palmer gets a yellow card for the original foul, and things are getting testy and green smoke wafts and a pyrotechnic display burns atop the main capo stand.
45th—Besler with a throw in deep in Portland's end, and it's a dangerous chance for KC. But Boyd is there to knock it out of immediate danger, and Mosquera clears it out. The crowd shows its appreciation.
Two minutes of extra time ... Two dangerous chances for KC as Zusi crosses for a diving Sapong in front. It gets past him, and Kamara is there to attempt another shot, but Purdy knocks it down.
HALFTIME: Portland leads 1-0. Purdy the last one off the field (he's limping) and the Timbers have a surprising halftime lead. This match hasn't really had much rhythm to it, with plenty of scrappy play, stops and starts and neither team really establishing itself. Fitting, probably, that an own-goal has been the difference so far. Of course, Portland has struck first in each of their last two matches, but both have been losses.
Some stats: Sporting dominates every stat but the score. KC out-shot Portland 7-4, but each team managed just one shot each on goal. Sporting led with 57% possession and 65% of duels won. It's been a physical match thus far, and the Timbers have 10 fouls to KC's four.
And we're back at it ... Same lineup for Portland after Chabala gets a bit of a fitness test at halftime. Again the team comes out and runs around cones just before the half, which I'm sure they just love doing.
47th—Chará with a great run down the west side and crosses into the box for Perlaza. He lets it go and Boyd shoots it, but Nielsen is there to get a huge save. HUGE. A two-goal lead would've been huge. Corner kick coming.
48th—Jewsbury sends it and Brunner goes for the header, but it's knocked away. KC is forced to knock it out, and it'll be a throw-in from a dangerous spot for Portland. They throw in, and after two Sporting defenders fall, Mosquera plays it back to Nagbe. He fires a shot, but it's immediately knocked down.
49th—Jewsbury fouled just outside the arch, straight on. Timbers will have a free kick from 25 yards out. Dangerous spot.
50th—Nagbe flicks it softly through Jewsbury's legs to Boyd, who cracks one. It's defended and knocked away, however and Portland will have a throw. Perlaza tries to draw a corner kick, but it's off his foot and given back to KC. Crowd doesn't it, but it's a good call.
52nd—KC gets it first corner of the half. Zusi sends it in for Kamara, but the Timbers head it away. KC re-groups and sends it back in, but Zusi is called offside.
54th—KC with another corner after Sinovic plays it off Purdy. Zusi sends it in low, and Chabala knocks it away.
55th—Two chances for KC. Service comes in and Sapong leaps for a header, but can't quite get to it. It's knocked out for a moment, and Zusi gathers it for a shot. Sporting has really taken over this one after Portland established themselves in the opening minutes. Multiple dangerous chances, but Portland is holding firm so far.
57th—Nagbe with some fancy footwork and drops it back to Chabala. He sends a long cross in toward the far post and Boyd is there, but Sinovic heads it out for a Portland corner. Chabala sends it in and it's knocked high into the air. Nielsen is forced to punch it out, and KC is out of danger.
61st—Chará called for a foul after Espinoza goes down and the crowd hates the call. Boos rain down. KC will have a free kick from 40 yards out.
62nd—Zusi sends it on-goal, and Perkins is there. He drops it for a second, but with Collin closing, he picks it up.
63rd—Espinoza blasts one left-footed from 45 out, but it's just high.
64th—Purdy throws in to Jewsbury, and he flicks it ahead to Boyd, who's offside. Again. Boyd throws his arms up in his usual manner, but he was clearly a step ahead.
66th—Collin levels Purdy in the box and is issued a yellow card. Some more pushing and shoving as Chabala and Boyd let Collin know they don't appreciate his playing style. Or something like that.
68th—Palmer with a nice switch to Chará, who makes a move along the sideline and finds Jewsbury for a shot from straight on. But Zusi just gets a foot on it to knock it high and wide, and it's a corner kick for Portland.
69th—Jewsbury sends one in for Purdy, but his header is high. KC goal kick coming as Portland is beginning to pick up some momentum.
70th—Another Portland corner kick coming as Chará boots it off a KC defender. Chabala sends it in, but it's knocked away.
71st—KC makes the game's first substitution. Teal Burnbury enters for Convey and Portland is really pressuring KC here.
73rd—Espinoza with a long ball meant for Kamara, but Chabala is there to head it high into the air for Perkins. Nice defensive play for Chabala, who had Kamara breathing down his neck.
74th—Palmer unloads a shot from distance, but KC is there to deflect it away.
76th—Nagbe with a nifty pass into Chabala in the box, and he tries to flick it ahead to Boyd. Boyd gets a piece of it, but it's left. For KC, Paulo Nagamura enters Cesar.
77th—Purdy is down at midfield. He's been knocked around quite a bit tonight and has shown a bit of a limp. The medical staff is helping him off, and Nielsen calls his teammates in for a huddle near midfield.
78th—Freddie Braun make his MLS debut as he enters for Purdy, whose night is over and whose ankle hurts.
80th—KC sends one in and Braun is there to head it away. A big first touch. Crowd is really making some noise, knowing Portland's tendency to give up goals at this point in the match. Sapong fires one from 30 yards out, but Perkins is there to make the stop.
81st—Boyd picks up a yellow card after he takes out Besler.
83rd—KC taking its time, passing along their back line. They know Portland's rep just as well as the Timbers Army, who's nervously belting out "You are my Sunshine." Portland happy to clear it away at every chance.
84th—Eric Alexander enters for Perlaza.
87th—Timbers holding tight as KC cracks a pair of shots in the box. It'll be a corner kick. NERVOUS TIME! Zusi sends it in, but it's a foul in the box after Nagbe clears it out with a header. Timbers taking their time.
88th—Another opportunity for KC as Kamara cracks one. It's knocked out of the box and Boyd finds Nagbe streaking down the west sideline. He's leveled and Besler picks up a yellow.
89th—Frank Songo'o enters for Nagbe.
90th—Chabala rides Sapong to the pitch in a real dangerous spot. Not the smartest move by Chabala there. Free kick coming from 35 yards out.
Four minutes of stoppage time ... Corner comes in and Boyd heads it over the goal line. Another corner and Jewsbury heads it out. KC earns a throw, and THEY NEARLY THROW IT IN. The ball goes right between Perkins' hands, but Mosquera is there on the goal line to bail him out. Timbers are very fortunate there .... Songo'o with a long run and he's taken down from behind by Espinoza. No call. ... Songo'o again with a run and a great move at the top of the box to get free. But again, he's taken down from behind, but there's no call ... Chará gets a yellow card for stalling.
FULL TIME: Portland wins, 1-0. Big celebrations on the field, and Chabala lifts Brunner into the air. Lots of high-fives and hugs for Portland, who hang on to beat the top team in the league. It wasn't the prettiest, but the four-match losing streak is officially over.
Back from the locker room, and I can report that it featured a very different vibe than last time we were here. For one, there was noise. Guys weren't speaking in hushed tones or keeping their heads down, and to a man, it seemed like a huge weight had been lifted off this team's shoulders.
"Everyone's able to smile now," said Troy Perkins, who earned his 50th career MLS win in a somewhat shaky performance.
And while there were plenty of smiles, Kris Boyd winced a bit when he sat in front of his locker and again when he put on his shoes—the telltale signs of a physical match.
"We've played better in games this season and lost, but tonight we matched them man-for-man and stood up to them," Boyd said. "You learn, in football, who's on your side and who's not when you're losing. I think everybody in the dressing room has stood up tonight and showed great character to come away with a great three points against an undefeated team."
Some final stats: KC out-shot Portland 16-12, possessed 59% of the time and won 56% of the duels. Doesn't matter: The only number the Timbers are focusing on is "3", as in the number of points they earned by snapping their four-match skid against the best team in the league. One reason was Portland's physical play, illustrated by the number of fouls (16) they had against a Sporting team that was supposed to be one of the more rough-and-tumble in MLS. But Portland didn't back down, and any panic that was building up among the fan base and in the locker room is but a memory—one everyone in J-WF hopes they won't have to re-live anytime soon.