PORTLAND, Ore. – While scoring their first goal in four games was certainly the highlight of the Portland Timbers' 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire on Sunday, it was the continuation of their strong defensive play that allowed them to escape with three points.
After Jalil Anibaba's 39th-minute goal to level the match at 1-1, the Timbers didn't allow another shot on goal for the remainder of the game. A rejuvenated Timbers backline – that has allowed just one goal in the past three games – blocked two of the Fire's three second-half attempts on goal.
WATCH: POR 2, CHI 1
"I think that we had to leave men back because they were leaving men high, and obviously we were knocking the ball into the channels at the end of the game for [forwards Kris] Boyd and Jorge [Perlaza] to hold the ball up," Timbers head coach John Spencer said. "I think defensively, we've been sound since the Montreal game. We've looked good at the back."
In Montreal, a 2-0 loss, the Timbers defense had been a weakness. The Impact scored their two goals in the final 15 minutes of the match, and at the time, Portland had given up a league-worst seven goals in the final quarter-hour. But two clean sheets and an impressive outing against an explosive Chicago side later, Portland's defense is singing a different tune.
"I think the guys do look fitter, do look stronger," Spencer said. "I think mentally we've gotten over that hump like we did early last year."
With captain Jack Jewsbury unavailable Sunday due to a pelvic strain suffered last Tuesday against Houston, midfielder Diego Chara wore the captain's armband against the Fire for the first time in the Designated Player's MLS career.
The Colombian in his second year with the Timbers had one shot, made two successful tackles and intercepted one pass against the Fire.
"He's an experienced player," Spencer said. "He's played in big games. I had no hesitation. I think he leads by example, rather than leading by talking. I think the energy and the work rate that he puts into every single game is tremendous."
Perkins sets new record
Goalkeeper Troy Perkins set a new Timbers MLS mark for consecutive minutes played without allowing a goal at 377 minutes. Entering Sunday's match, Perkins had not allowed a goal since April 14 against the LA Galaxy. His 377-minute shutout run is tied for the third longest in MLS this season with Vancouver's Joe Cannon.