Caleb Porter called it the Portland Timbers’ best performance of the season – and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Fresh off a bruising 4-2 loss to Cascadia foe Seattle Sounders last weekend, the Timbers bounced back with a comprehensive 3-0 away victory Saturday over the Vancouver Whitecaps, their other Pacific Northwest rival, for a win that gets Portland into playoff position for the first time this season. And Portland’s head coach was understandably pleased with not only the offensive outburst but also his team’s third shutout of the season.
“I thought it was the most complete performance of the year, maybe since I’ve been here,” the second-year coach told the media after the victory at BC Place. “Both sides of the ball, I thought we played good football, and we got back to the way we’re used to playing. And I’m real proud of the guys.”
Porter, especially, came away smelling like a rose. Just about every move he made paid off.
First, he reshuffled the backline, aside from Designated Player center back Liam Ridgewell, who has started seven straight games since his signing in late June. Pa Modou Kah, who has been battling an Achilles injury, got his first MLS start alongside Ridgewell since June 27. Jorge Villafana came in at left back for his first start since July 13. The most impressive change came via Alvas Powell, who started at right back for the first time since May 17.
Powell opened the scoring with a 51st-minute goal and was incredibly active getting up and down until subbing off in the 74th minute. He also scored last week against in Portland’s opening CONCACAF Champions League victory over Alpha United in his first Timbers appearance since spending the majority of the season on loan with USL PRO side Sacramento FC.
“I thought it was a good week of preparation from our entire coaching staff, on the training ground, in the video room in terms of scouting and game planning,” Porter said of his changes. “You make decisions [and] ultimately they’re only good decisions if your players perform. The players performed and they deserved the credit for this.”
Not only was it an important result for Portland’s playoff chances, but they also bounced back from a horrendous defensive performance against the Sounders. With their two previous shutouts coming against lowly Chivas USA, the last-place team in the Western Conference, it was arguably Portland’s best defensive effort.
“In the second half we completely shut them down,” Villafana said. “ … I think we dominated them on both sides of the ball, attacking and defending.”
And, of course, there are the looming playoff implications. After earning just five points through their first eight games of the season, Portland are now a point clear of Vancouver – who do have a game in hand – for the fifth and final playoff ticket. And the Timbers face a home game against eighth-place San Jose next weekend.
“It’s huge,” Porter said. “I knew that if we could continue to hang in because of the quality we have and the way that we play and the way we built this team mentality with a tight locker room, I knew that if we could stick together and stay positive and hang around that eventually we would start to have a performance like we did today. This is huge for our confidence. We’re going to build on this.”