Perkins, Timbers defense step up again as offense still stuck

Troy Perkins has been a marked man lately.

When a team’s offense struggles, goalkeepers can often seem to be on the wrong end of a firing line — and Perkins has the battle scars to prove it.

The Timbers 'keeper — still sporting a plastic face shield from when he was run over three weeks ago in Montreal — was once again thrust front and center on Tuesday night against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium and was up to the task, collecting seven saves to preserve a scoreless draw.

With Portland’s offense still stuck in the mud, Perkins said he’s felt the added motivation to stay sharp with his team now having gone without a goal for four straight matches.

“A little bit,” Perkins told MLSsoccer.com when asked if the clean sheet — his third in his last four matches — serves the team as motivation. “It’s a feather in the hat for the guys in the back to keep a clean sheet on the road. But to come here like that and at least walk away with the point and a shutout is a moral victory for the guys in the back.”

Full Highlights: HOU 0, POR 0

Though the seven-year veteran deflected praise to his back line, it was his play alone that was Man of the Match material. With the Dynamo pressing forward in the game’s final 25 minutes, Perkins turned away several potential game winners.

Houston’s best chance came in the 87th minute, when attacker Calen Carr broke free on the right wing with a direct line at the goal. Perkins sprang off the backline for a sliding save.

In all, Houston had 18 attempts on goal.

“Especially for the last 25 minutes, we knew they were just going to press and press and press,” Perkins said. “That’s how they play. And we were fortunate a little bit, but I think the guys did an exceptional job to limit their chances.”

In fact, Perkins hasn’t allowed a goal since Portland’s 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on April 14. He was knocked out of a scoreless game against Montreal the following week — resulting in an injury to his nose — and the Impact netted two in the final 15 minutes against backup goalkeeper Joe Bendik. Portland has allowed 13 goals in 10 games, with 11 of those coming against Perkins, a much-needed bright spot amidst the team’s oft-publicized offensive struggles.

“We’re organized,” Perkins said of the team's tough defense. “Guys are talking a lot. They’re understanding the philosophy we’re trying to get here. They’re putting everything they’ve got on the line.”

And, Perkins said, a team can score all the goals in the world, but it’s meaningless if they aren’t keeping the opposition out of the back of the net.

“That’s where it all starts; you’ve got to be able to do the dirty work,” he said. “And after that, everything else will fall into place. If you don’t get that base of commitment and that passion and heart of defending and doing whatever it takes, it doesn’t matter how many we score, you’ll give up just as many.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com. Twitter @dan_itel.