PORTLAND, Ore. — After enduring what seemed liked one disappointment after another, the Portland Timbers’ shocking 3-0 upset victory Wednesday against the LA Galaxy now looks like it may have been building over the past few months.
True, the Timbers had won just one out of 10 matches coming into the game. Yes, their mark of allowing 10 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches was tied for worst in MLS. And even after two impressive offensive outputs in their last two games — starting with the 2-2 tie against Toronto last weekend — Portland’s 89 shots on goal is 14th in the league.
But it came down to what Timbers head coach John Spencer called character, something he has been preaching since his team’s slide started after their last home victory against Columbus on May 21.
“I asked the guys from the first minute to try and outrun them every inch of the field, and I think we did that,” he said. “It’s a very pleasing result, obviously, after the way things have been going. I think we showed a massive amount of character.”
The signs haven’t been easy to spot. The defending MLS champion Colorado Rapids beat Portland with an extra-time goal, spoiling goalkeeper’s Troy Perkins clean sheet, in a 1-0 defeat on June 11.
A penalty-kick goal in second-half stoppage time led to a 3-3 tie June 19 against New York, a team that has spent most of the season around the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Timbers featured leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before falling 3-2 against Seattle. And Portland led 2-0 after 70 minutes against Toronto last Saturday in a game that featured a season-high 11 shots on goal for the Timbers.
The point being Portland has played well for long stretches against quality teams, but haven’t put those games away.
All that comes after a stretch of quality results early when the Timbers won their first five matches at their JELD-WEN Field home — notably victories against FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia and Columbus.
“We’ve beaten some quality teams here,” Spencer said.
And then there’s the changes Spencer has recently made to the lineup.
Portland brought in defenders Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer in a trade from Houston. Chabala’s presence has already been felt after he scored the first goal Wednesday against LA. And Spencer commended both of them for bringing more stability to the back line.
“We’ve got a little bit more experience back there now,” said defensive leader Eric Brunner, who scored the third goal against LA. “But at the same time, we worked really hard. We put in the shift regardless of who was on the field. Lovel worked hard. [Chabala] worked hard. Dave [Horst] worked hard. It’s just good that we’re on the same page.”
And former reserves Sal Zizzo and Eddie Johnson have sparked the offense with their move into the first XI, starting with Johnson’s first MLS goal in the Toronto match. While Johnson was injured for the LA match and will likely miss Saturday's San Jose game due to a concussion sustained in warm ups Wednesday, the effect Zizzo’s speed has on opposing defenses is unmistakable.
Now the question remains, can Portland keep it up as the team hits the road for the next three matches starting Saturday against San Jose (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online)?
“I keep saying there are no easy games in MLS,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “It’s a very unpredictable league.”