PORTLAND, Ore. – While the Portland Timbers haven’t exactly started the 2012 season how they wanted, there has been one positive to hang their hats on lately: defense.
The Timbers have kept clean sheets in three of their last four games, including scoreless draws in their last two. Veteran goalkeeper Troy Perkins hasn’t allowed a goal since Portland’s 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on April 14 – he came out with an injury in Portland’s 2-0 loss to Montreal on April 28 before the Impact were able to score.
With a Sunday game against the explosive Chicago Fire looming (7 pm ET, Galavision) – and Portland having gone four games without scoring a goal and nine games with just one win – the defense will once again have little room for error.
“Whoever steps in has done a nice job,” Timbers defender Eric Brunner (above) said. “And I think it speaks loads that we’ve had two shutouts in a row and three on the season, which is good. As a whole, starting with Troy and the backline up through the whole team, we would like to keep that going.”
And outside of Perkins, who has started every game in goal this season, it’s been a defense by committee. Lineup changes and injuries have forced Portland to start 10 different people on the back line.
And that will once again be the case Sunday.
Central defender Mamadou Danso, who missed the season’s first eight games with a broken foot, will serve a one-game suspension against Chicago for a hard tackle against Dynamo forward Calen Carr during Tuesday’s game in Houston.
Timbers head coach John Spencer said the ruling by the MLS Disciplinary Committee left him “flabbergasted.”
The Timbers may also be without team captain Jack Jewsbury, who has started the last two games at right back after moving from his longtime attacking midfield position, due to a groin injury suffered in Houston. Spencer said Brunner, out the last two games with a groin injury of his own, or David Horst, who has yet to play this year after offseason hip surgery, will start in place of Danso.
“We have a lot of belief in David Horst and a belief in all the players we’ve signed,” Spencer said. “So for us when this happen in games you’ve got to deal with it.”
Whoever starts in the final four will have to deal with Chicago forward Dominic Oduro, a player Spencer called “one of the quickest, if not the quickest” in MLS. Portland had good luck in 2011 against Oduro – who has four goals this season – by holding him scoreless in two victories over the Fire.
“I think that we’ve coped with him in the games we’ve played against him pretty well,” Spencer said. “But as I’ve said, Dominic can come up and be very good on any given day so we have to give him that respect.”
This year the Timbers, coming into the game in last place in the Western Conference, are in desperate need of a victory. And that takes goals, something not lost on Spencer, who said it’s high time the forward half of the field matches the defense’s quality.
“We’ve kept clean sheets, therefore it gives us a chance to pick up points,” Spencer said. “But for us we’re not winning games, and that’s what we want to do. We never set ourselves up Monday through Friday to go and play for a tie whether it’s home or away.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.