If not for a moment of magic from Maxi Urruti and a late slip from Alvas Powell, the Portland Timbers might have handed FC Dallas their first defeat of the 2017 MLS season.
In a game billed as a clash between the Western Conference's two best teams, it was the Timbers who came away the happier party. Dallas, having lost just one of their last 25 games at home, didn't lead for a single second.
That the Timbers weren't able to close out what would have been a statement victory stings slightly. But this result — which came after a lightning delay and in consistent rain and wind — is still a mighty impressive one for a team that continues to perform on the road in the way that Caleb Porter's best sides always have.
The Timbers will exit this week the same way they entered it: top of the West, and, without question, one of the league's best teams.
Dallas, to be sure, wasn't at its best on Saturday night. The conditions wrecked havoc on the game — and on much of Toyota Stadium's sellout crowd — and disrupted an event that was far from the MLS showpiece it might have been.
Not that the Timbers will complain. Minus Diego Valeri, playing a team that beat them three times last season, they put in the kind of performance that separates good MLS teams from Cup contenders.
The game got off to an extremely slow start after the delay, with both teams looking stiff and somewhat tepid. Dallas in particular was having all kinds of problems connecting forward passes through its midfield, and struggling to play out of the back.
Then, thirty minutes into the game, the Timbers struck: Fanendo Adi, back from suspension, ghosting in between Dallas defenders and heading a fabulous David Guzman free kick past Jesse Gonzalez to make it 1-0.
The goal, Adi's first since breaking the club scoring record in Philadelphia three weeks ago, marked the eighth time in the season's first nine games that the Timbers have opened the scoring. As the first half pattered to a close without Dallas registering a single shot on target, Portland
Then, ten minutes into the second half, Dallas began to find its footing. Oscar Pareja through Michael Barrios on for an ineffective Javier Morales, and within three minutes, the Timbers were under pressure.
Jeff Attinella, in goal again for the injured Jake Gleeson, did exceptionally well to parry away a Kellyn Acosta shot — before Urruti, playing against his former team, and having contributed little else but a sensational dive over the course of the evening, conjured a moment of brilliance.
The striker collected a loose ball on top of the box, fought through traffic to keep possession, went right on Liam Ridgewell, and blasted a shot at Attinella that swerved into the upper left corner to tie the game.
It was a tremendous effort. But the Timbers would have an answer. Ten minutes later, after dogged yeoman's work by Adi to keep possession, Darren Mattocks hit Alvas Powell on the overlap, Powell's driven cross found its way through to Sebastian Blanco, and Blanco fired past Gonzalez to give the Timbers the lead back.
The goal was Blanco's first for the club, and the high-point of a very good performance in Valeri's stead. Having been moved to the #10 role, Blanco buzzed all night — setting up a golden chance for Darlington Nagbe shortly before his goal, driving the team forward, and generally running himself into the ground.
Comparing Blanco to Rodney Wallace might undercut the Argentine's attacking ability slightly, but the same core player is there: competitive, athletic, and reliable. The Timbers missed Wallace's intensity and grit immensely last year, and gaining those attributes back through Blanco has been a tremendous boost.
In these kind of games — on the road, bad crowd, bad weather, ugly soccer — sheer determination shows up on the scoresheet. It's why the Timbers, despite winning more home games last year than in any of their other six MLS seasons, didn't make the playoffs. It's why this year will be a much different story.
Blanco's goal in this game, though, was not ultimately decisive. Ten minutes from time, with Hernan Grana released into space down the Timbers' left, Powell, marking Tesho Akindele fell down — and, seconds later, Akindele would have a simple finish from Grana's service to tie the game again.
It was an unfortunate way to concede a game-tying goal, and, a fitting conclusion to a somewhat wacky contest. Attinella would make another terrific save on an Acosta free kick, but other than that, Dallas failed to generate any standout chances for a game-winner.
Porter complimented his team's mentality after the game, and he had plenty of reason to be pleased. In four matches without Valeri last season, the Timbers managed just two goals. Dallas, meanwhile, hadn't conceded two against an MLS team all year.
The depth that Porter mandated the Timbers get in the offseason? Attinella was again exceptional in Gleeson's place, while Mattocks was involved in a goal for a third straight game. With Valeri out, Blanco had arguably his best game for the club while Guzman notched his third assist on a set piece.
Porter must also have liked that his team won more duels and more tackles than did a Dallas team that, especially without Mauro Diaz, the Timbers have no reason to be scared of.
In fact, it's hard to make the case that the Timbers should be scared of anyone in MLS right now. We've known since Opening Day that this could be a special season — and nothing that transpired in the Dallas rain suggested any different.