It was Darlington Nagbe's afternoon.
Every once in a while, the Timbers' mild-mannered midfielder checks into a gear that most players can only marvel at — and the result this time was a goal not twenty minutes into a Cascadia Cup clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps that has been and will be seen around the world.
It was Timbers 2, Whitecaps 1 on Saturday afternoon at Providence Park. It wasn't pretty — especially in a second half that Vancouver dominated — but, with the likes of Jake Gleeson, Fanendo Adi, and Sebastian Blanco all missing from the lineup for various reasons, it didn't have to be.
The Timbers, after consecutive frustrating home performances, are back in the winner's circle and about to embark on an eighth straight week atop the MLS standings to start the season. It has, to say the least, been a very decent spring in Portland.
Seeing how Sporting Kansas City stifled the Timbers through the middle last weekend with their 4-3-3, Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson set his team up in an identical formation with three defensive midfielders.
The problem for Vancouver was that this week's Timbers team was a far cry from the one that lost to Sporting. With Fanendo Adi suspended, former Whitecap Darren Mattocks started up top; while a knock rendered Sebastian Blanco just 30-minutes fit and made a starter of Dairon Asprilla on the right wing.
It was a faster, more direct look for Portland — and it unsettled the Whitecaps' defense in the early going. Mattocks had a chance stealing in after a loose pass from Tim Parker, but the ice-breaker ultimately wouldn't come on a mistake. It'd come on a moment of sheer genius from Nagbe.
The U.S. international has scored some good goals in his career — including one against Vancouver this time last year — but his effort in the 18th minute was truly breathtaking.
Nagbe, under pressure, collected a pass in midfield from David Guzman, slid by his frequent victim Matias Laba, stepped around Kendall Waston, and unleashed a bullet that beat David Ousted and went in off the underside of the bar.
It was the perfect springboard for the Timbers, who, playing with the lead, put together several passages of crisp attacking soccer before doubling their lead just before the break.
Mattocks has been an extremely reliable performer during his time with the Timbers, and, making his first start of the season against his former team, he stepped up again — getting on the end of a pinpoint Diego Valeri cross to slide in the second goal.
It was the Maestro's eighth career assist against Vancouver, and it was the point of a fabulous quick-hitting attack that pulled all three of Robinson's central midfielders out of position and included five of the Timbers' six front men.
The goal was, in many ways, the Timbers' high point.
The 'Caps would get back into the game just before the hour mark, when Alvas Powell — who had a rough outing — bundled over Bolaños in the area. Referee Chris Penso pointed to for a penalty, and though Attinella saved Fredy Montero's spot-kick, the striker was first to the rebound to cut the Timbers' lead in half.
From there, it was anything but smooth sailing. Montero's movement had Liam Ridgewell on his last legs all afternoon, Bolaños' cleverness continued to open up space on the right against Powell, and the Timbers began to recede into their own end as Vancouver took complete control.
But the most troubling moment of the second half unquestionably came just before the 80th minute, when Diego Valeri pulled up lame — and then fell to the turf — clutching his hip. Valeri had to be stretchered off, and though Porter said he was feeling better after the game, his outlook for the weeks ahead is uncertain.
Vancouver's primary problem, meanwhile, was that the wrong players kept winding up on the end of their best chances. Andrew Jacobson had several good looks at goal over the course of the ninety minutes go begging, while Bolaños' best chance fell not to his right foot but to his head.
In the end, after a series of dangerous free kick opportunities, the Timbers did enough — behind a very, very good performance from Attinella — to see the 'Caps off. A Montero chip that spun just beyond the far post was as close as Vancouver ever got to an equalizer.
It wasn't a vintage Timbers performance. It was, however, a satisfyingly gutty one. The likes of Nagbe and Diego Chara, who drew two yellow cards and could have drawn a third in a phenomenal shift, stepped up. Ridgewell, in his return, used every tool available to him to hang on against Montero.
It was the kind of win to please a coach, and Porter clearly liked that his team beat the same tactical setup that had shut them out the week before.
Had the Whitecaps been possessed of a little bit more quality — or Sporting's sustained level of commitment — it could have been a different story. Robinson, himself upbeat after the game, thought his was the better team.
But it's the Timbers who have the game-breakers, and, this year, the Timbers who have the depth to augment them. The 4-0 loss in Vancouver that ended the 2016 season could not, today, feel further away.
This year in Portland, it's a whole different ballgame.