You know a team is in good form when the importance of a game is bandied about like a Diego Valeri through-ball into the box. After all, nothing says "we're legit" more than being involved in what's expected to be a real dandy against the top team in the league.
Relevance, after all, is the highest form of flattery. Especially with six months left in the season.
"It's our biggest game to this point," said defender Michael Harrington, describing this afternoon's clash of two of best of West. At training yesterday, Cap'n Jack Jewsbury agreed. And when Capt. Will Johnson was asked about the importance of Portland's next 10 days, he answered with a pair of questions.
“Are we going to be fighting for first in the West?" he said. "Or are we back to clawing for a playoff spot?”
Today could be indicative, despite a number of notable absences on both sides. Portland is missing budding star Rodney Wallace (he's still kickin' it with the Costa Rican national team) but Donovan Ricketts and Ryan Johnson will be back. The Hoops will be without leading scorer Blas Perez and former Timber Kenny Cooper, the latter of which flew home this morning to attend to a "family emergency."
Still, head coach Schnellas Hyndman's club is as dangerous as its 28 points from 14 matches suggests. They had a nine-game unbeaten streak earlier this season and have TWO starters who roll with single names (Michel and Jackson). Legit. Portland, of course, is unbeaten in 12 matches—they haven't lost since MARCH, when Hugo Chavez's body was still warm (too soon?). Can the Timbers make it a baker's dozen?
It's a Chamber of Commerce-type day in Goose Hollow. If you're not already here, go ahead and click past the jump, and follow along as I deftly describe all the action—on and off the pitch.
Dallas (8-2-4, 28 pts)—Raul Fernandez in goal. Jair Benitez, Matt Hedges, Zach Loyd, and George Jean on defense. Michel, David Ferreira, Jackson, Andrew Jacobson and Fabian Castillo at midfield. Eric Hassli up front.
Rounding out the 18: London Woodberry, Stephen Keel, Je-Vaughn Watson, Chris Seitz, Walker Zimmerman, Bobby Warshaw.
Portland (5-1-8, 23 pts)—Donovan Ricketts in goal. Michael Harrington, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, Jack Jewsbury on the backline. Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Kalif Alhassan at midfield. Frederic Piquionne and Darlington Nagbe up front.
Rounding out the 18: Milos Kocic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Ryan Miller, Michael Nanchoff, Ben Zemanski, Ryan Johnson, Jose Valencia.
Timbers staff was offering media members free "House of Pane" T-shirts upon entry into the stadium. NO, THANKS, I CANNOT BE BOUGHT. Oh wait, they have a omelet bar in the press area? WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO WRITE, MR. PAULSON?
Touched on this earlier, but a bit of scary news for a former Timber: Kenny "KFC" Cooper will not play tonight, after he flew back to Dallas this morning to attend to what Dallas is calling "a family emergency," adding they ask fans to "keep Kenny and his family in your thoughts and prayers while also respecting their privacy."
As Portland coach Caleb Porter walks on to the field (looking dapper as ever) fans chant his name. A two-stick reads "In Porter we trust."
I'll be interesting to see how Dallas' offense takes shape without Perez and Cooper. The offensive onus falls on Hassli. Portland's defense has a new look with fellow Gambians Futty and Kah standing guard. They're calling it "The Great Wall of Gambia." Which sort of makes sense, I guess.
And away we go! Timbers headed toward their Army.
1st minute—John is fouled for the first stoppage of the day. Fernandez sends the free kick toward the top of the box and Jewsbury volleys it away. What a gorgeous day here.
3rd—Another foul after Harrington mis-plays a touch back to Alhassan. Portland wins it back after the restart and Valeri wakes the crowd up with a drop to Harrington that's knocked forward. Chara is called for his first foul of the night on a pretty soft call. Hedges went down a bit too easy there.
4th—Dallas with a first bit of danger here as Jackson gets past the defense and chips one to Castillo, whose soft header is easily handled by Ricketts.
5th—On the other end, Johnson tries to bend one along the goal line, but Fernandez is there to connect. Nobody in green makes a run there, which might have made that a bit scarier for Dallas.
7th—Hassli is down at midfield and here comes the trainer. He's the only real forward the Hoops have in the 18, and the fact that he's walking off gingerly is not a good sign for FCD.
8th—Indeed, Hassli is coming out of this match. Huge, huge break for Portland as Dallas will play the rest of this match without a true forward. Watson comes on for Hassli.
9th—Timbers with a lot of pressure in Dallas' end but the Hoops beat it. They play along ball forward to Watson, who can't run it down before it goes over the line.
10th—Close call for Portland as Ferreira rips Kah and is alone in the box. But Ricketts comes out and snuffs it out. Very fortunate for the Timbers, as Kah gets a bit sloppy and doesn't have to pay for it.
13th—This one's getting physical as Benitez shoves Alhassan aside to take away and Futty returns the favor at midfield. Timbers earn their first corner of the afternoon. Valeri sends it in for Nagbe, but it's headed up by the Dallas defense. Alhassan ends up with it about 35 yards out and lofts one in, but it's no problem for Fernandez.
15th—Very even, scrappy match so far. Nice-looking possession on both sides of the ball and haymakers being thrown with regularity. TIMBERS NEARLY SCORE when Harrington sends a gorgeous curler into the box for Valeri, who heads it to the ground and OFF THE CROSSBAR. Whoa-ho-ho that was a close one.
18th—Valeri plays a nice lofting ball forward for Chara, who draws a foul in a dangerous spot, right on the corner of the 18. All set up by a physical takeaway from Piquionne.
19th—Valeri sends a screamer in that's knocked out right away. Throw-in comes and Jewsbury serves a similar ball back into the box, but it's headed out by Dallas.
21st—This one is getting pretty chippy as John muscles Johnson to the ground. He gets up and returns the favor, and the whistle blows. Porter, who's ditched his sport coat, is yelling at the fourth official.
24th—Dallas with a chance as Futty takes a bit of a leisurely line to the ball and Castillo is able to gather and attempt a cross. Harrington is there for a leaping header to knock it away.
25th—Dallas looking confused on who's playing up front, since nobody on the field is a natural forward. Michel has one from about 40 yards out, but it's just wide of goal. Goal kick, Portland.
26th—Jacobson tries his foot after a couple dribbles. He shoots from 35 yards out, but Ricketts is there to gather it after a bounce. Timbers quickly counter and Valeri tries a ball for Nagbe, but it's just long. Nagbe gives him a thumbs-up, as if to say, "next time."
28th—First corner for Dallas after Harrington and Chara collide and the ball sneaks over the line. FCD corner comes in low and near-post, but Johnson heads it away. Dallas gets it back into the area and Kah with a lackluster clear. Castillo has it at his feet and tries a swinging volley, but it's well over the bar.
31st—Another corner coming after Benitez knocks one off Jewsbury's chest and over the line. Ferreira sends it high and Ricketts is there to leap and knock it away. Good thing, but John was right there for a wide-open header. It bounds over the line and another corner is taken, short. Johnson and Chara react well to close and prevent any type of service.
32nd—Very even match so far. Timbers possessing well, Dallas trying to figure things out with its personnel and settling for long shots. Back to the action, Valeri is knocked to the ground and rolling a bit, but the ref isn't buying it.
34th—Futty is called for a shove on Ferriera, and that's pretty obvious. Crowd is letting the officials hear it, because things a bit one-sided in terms of who's catching
35th—Chara rips Ferriera and plays a great ball ahead to Piquionne. He hits the breaks and forces Ferriera to slip, but his shot is mishit badly. Missed opportunity there for the Timbers.
37th—Valeri with a long, high ball into the box and Futty gets a head on it, but it's not caught solidly and Dallas clears.
39th—Benitez with a long cross attempt into the box, but it sails on him. On the other end, Alhassan is pulled to the ground by Loyd, and it'll be a free kick for Portland in a dangerous spot. RAPID FIRE CRAZINESS as Johnson sends it far-post and Futty heads it down. GREAT SAVE goes right to Chara, who cracks a sweeping shot that's SAVED AGAIN. What a series there—two fantastic saves from Fernandez.
40th—Johnson crushes one from 25 yards out that Fernandez knocks away. Piquionne is there to gather it and try a tight shot, but it's knocked over the line for a corner kick. As things get settled, Benitez head-butts Piquionne right in the face.
41st—Corner comes in and Futty gets a header on it, but it's wide. The head-butt is shown on the big screen and the crowd is livid. What a game. If Dallas is the best team in MLS, Portland is proving it's right there. End-to-end action, lots of wrestling for position and opportunities galore. Good stuff!
Two minutes of stoppage ... Johnson tries to play one wide to Alhassan, but he didn't hit it well and Castillo is there to slide and knock it away. On the other end, Kah is forced to play it back to Ricketts. Jewsbury gives a corner to Dallas, and it's played short. Michel knocks it in and it's headed off-balance by Watson. Timbers clear for the moment. Castillo gets 1-on-1 with Harrington and passes to Jackson, who fires a screamer AND RICKETTS WITH A HUGE SAVE. Completely outstretched and knocks it over the line for a corner kick. Wow. Massive save there. Corner comes in and John gets a piece of it, but it'll go wide.
HALFTIME: We're scoreless. But what a great half of soccer, especially among the keepers. The only team not having a good match are the officials, who've let this game get a bit out of hand at times. A missed head-butt is pretty bad, especially when it's replayed 11 times on ESPN.
Some stats: Dallas out-shot Portland 7-6, with four of those on goal. Portland had 58% of the possession and completed 84% of its passes, compared to Dallas' 77%. And the Timbers are dominating the 50-50s, winning nearly 63% of 'em.
SECOND HALF: Here we go! Timbers heading toward the south side. No changes at the half.
47th—Chara and Valeri playing back-and-forth and the latter drops one back to Alhassan. He has one from about 30 yards out, but it's no problem for Fernandez. Nice look there, however, for Alhassan.
49th—Great pass by Ferriera to find Jackson streaking down the east sideline. He sends it in front of the goal and Futty is forced to knock it away for a corner kick. Ferreria takes it and Jewsbury heads it out of danger temporarily.
50th—Jackson fouled by Harrington he's down, rolling a bit. Futty, too, is down at the top of the box with a trainer attending to him. Futty getting walked off and it appears Jean-Baptiste will come on.
51st—Indeed, Timbers make their first substitution. It'll be AJ-B for Futty.
52nd—Michel with a curler into the box, but Ricketts is there to grab it. On the counter, Alhassan does well to keep a long ball in, but it'll be a throw in. TIMBERS GOAL! A fantastic strike by Nagbe, who takes a ball from Alhassan, turns and hits a beautiful turning drive to the far post with his back to the goal. Wow. Fantastic stuff there, and no chance for Fernandez. Timbers lead 1-0.
54th—Timbers on their front foot. They're threatening again and again but can't quite make that last connection. This place is electric after seeing yet another goalazo from Nagbe.
57th—Piquionne with a shot from just outside the box, but doesn't catch it all. It rolls softly to Fernandez who slowly dives to his right to gather it in.
59th—MORE WOODWORK. Johnson dribbles right into the defense and hits a lovely little pass ahead to Piquionne, who slams a shot off the right post. Fernandez was in good position to force that angle.
60th—On the other end, Ferreira does well to draw a foul at the top of the box. Dangerous spot here. Benitez with a strike past the five-man wall and RICKETTS WITH A DIVING SAVE. Nice reaction there and the Timbers survive a scary situation.
62nd—Castillo dribbles through a gauntlet of fouls before Chara finally brings him down. Again in a very dangerous spot for Portland. Ferreira sends it in and Jewsbury heads it away.
63rd—Piquionne is taken down right at midfield. Looks like he caught an elbow to his face, which has caught a few knocks today. Trainer on his way out.
65th—Piquionne back on as Dallas charges ahead. Benitez serves one in and Watson is either called offside or called for a handball. Either way, goal kick coming for Portland.
66th—First yellow card of the match, and it'll be on Chara. He fouls Jackson hard at midfield. On the restart, Dallas sends a ball into the box that's chipped forward and Ferreira heads it on-goal, but Ricketts is there to gather it in.
68th—A wonderful run by Valeri is rewarded as Alhassan finds him in the box. Valeri chests it down and smashed, but Fernandez is there to tip it over the bar. Another near-goalzo for Portland there.
69th—Another corner comes in and eventually chipped into the box for AJ-B, who leaps for it, but Fernandez is there to knock it forward to himself.
72nd—Timbers trying to slow things down here and maintain possession. It nearly bits them as Jackson steals one from Johnson and GETS FORWARD FOR A BREAKAWAAAAAAAY, but his shot is smashed over the bar. That should've been a goal and this game should be tied. Looked like a direct result of Portland trying to slow things down. Before the action picks back up, Ryan Johnson comes on for Piquionne.
74th—Dallas free kick from just inside midfield is sent into the box bu Michel and right back out by Will Johnson.
75th—Timbers on the counter and Chara rides a defender all the way down to the top of the 18, he shoots and it's just tipped away by Fernandez. Corner kick is sent in low by Valeri and AJ-B gets a header on it with his back to the goal, but it's well over the bar.
77th—Chara has a wide-open breakaway but sends a ball just wide! Yikes. Nagbe with a fantastic ball to free Chara, who gets ahead of everyone. He tries to touch it past Fernandez, but it rolls just right of the goal. That situation isn't exactly Diego's core competency, but he has to at least make Fernandez make a save on that one.
79th—Dallas with a corner kick after the Timbers nearly let one in off a reflection. It's sent in and headed amid a pack, and Portland is cleared.
80th—Jackson finds Loyd in the box, who cracks a shot toward the near post, but Ricketts is in the perfect position and covers the angle. He pops the ball back up to himself and gathers it in with.
82nd—Jackson with a nice turn, but AJ-B with an equally nice slide tackle. Benitez ends up with it and is fouled by Will Johnson. Tough call, but it's a tough spot here for Portland with a free kick about 30 yards out.
83rd—Zemanski is coming on for Alhassan. Four man wall set up at the top of the half-circle. Michel lines it up and fires to the left of the wall, but it's low and left of the goal. That was close.
86th—Scary collision at midfield as Kah and Jackson come together. Both stay down for a moment, but appear to be OK.
87th—On the restart, Nagbe sends one into the box for Johnson, who nearly scores as he's dragged to the turf, but his attempt spins away from the goal.
88th—Nagbe moving rather gingerly.
89th—Loyd plays one into the box for Ferreira, who gets a glancing header on it. Goal kick coming for Portland.
90th—Valeri dribbles ahead and shoots one that deflects off Hedges. Corner kick coming for Portland. They play it short and the time-killing is on.
Four minutes of stoppage...Will Johnson plays a long ball diagonally to Johnson. It's taken away and here comes the Dallas counter. Jackson gets a cross off and Dallas has two runners, but Ricketts again with a great decision to come out and cut off the ball before John gets there...Johnson using his body to knock the ball ahead, twice, and the ball lands at the feet of Valeri, he attempts a one-touch shot, but it's not hit well and Dallas clears...Hoops getting a bit of something going, Benitez tries to get around Zemanski, but he makes a great sliding tackle to knock it away.
FULL TIME: Timbers win, 1-0! What a win for Portland, which extends its unbeaten streak to 13 games and moves within two points of the top of the table.