PORTLAND, Ore. – Lost in the shuffle of the Portland Timbers offensive renaissance this season has been their defense.
But after Wednesday’s scoreless draw on the road against the LA Galaxy, Portland’s unheralded backline is receiving some just due. It was Portland’s fifth clean sheet in their last eight games dating back to May 2, including shutouts in two of their last three away games.
That's a lethal combination when you factor they also possess the league’s top-scoring offense with 25 goals scored in 16 games.
“I think what’s great is that we lead the league in goals and everybody talks about our attacking side, but we’re becoming a very good defensive team,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “I was most pleased with how we looked, how seasoned, how experienced we looked.”
Porter said his defense looked as if it had been together “for years.” And that’s perhaps the most impressive part, considering the rash of injuries to Portland’s center backs.
The Timbers lost starters David Horst and Mikaël Silvestre to season-ending injuries. And since May 2, they’ve employed a combination of veteran Mamadou “Futty” Danso, who wasn’t even in the regular 18 early in the season, second-year pro Andrew Jean-Baptiste and newly acquired Pa Modou Kah.
Danso left last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over FC Dallas with an injury and didn’t play Wednesday, leaving Kah and Jean-Baptiste the likely starters for Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN Field against the surging Colorado Rapids (7 pm ET, NBCSN/LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“We just all know how to play with each other, no matter who it is,” Jean-Baptiste said. “It’s crazy how it works, we have so many guys going in and out on the backline and we still manage to put up shutouts. It’s impressive, not many teams can do that. … We have no worries whoever we put in at that position.”
Of course it helps to have an impressive goalkeeper playing at the top of his game, shepherding the back line and throwing in spectacular saves when needed. Timbers ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts has been doing just that after recording his seventh clean sheet of the season, tying him for the league lead with New England’s Bobby Shuttleworth and Sporting Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen.
“Donovan is always a big factor,” Jean-Baptiste said. “He’s back there screaming because he needs to get that message across. … We all help each other.”
And they’ve done it against some of the league’s top attacking sides, shutting out the Galaxy with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane and first-place FC Dallas in back-to-back games. That has certainly gotten some talking about Portland’s defense.
“They played well,” Donovan said of Portland’s center backs. “Those two are big and physical and athletic.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.