The hottest team in MLS at the moment just might be the Portland Timbers, who are currently on a five-game winning streak, the latest of which was a 3-0 result over the San Jose Earthquakes at Providence Park on Sunday.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect about the recent run is that they've accomplished it without star midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL he suffered back in September. Since the fateful match in Seattle that saw Blanco go down, the Timbers have rattled off a 5-1-1 stretch that has them tied for first place in the Western Conference with the Seattle Sounders on 30 points from 16 matches.
The scary part? When head coach Giovanni Savarese looks at his team, he says he sees a group that still has another gear.
"I have to tell you that the way the guys have been working, how united they are, how much they put in, I cannot ask more because they're giving me everything, they're giving the team everything. What we can improve is definitely many different little things," Saverese said after Sunday's match. "That's the exciting part about our team, I still think we can become a better team. Today we showed in the second half, our possession was very, very good. We just have to continue we don't feel that we've arrived, that we continue to get better in every area — individually, collectively, offensively, in the middle, in the back, to defend better.
"But I'm extremely proud of the effort that every player continues to put in. Doesn't matter who comes in, they put in work for the team, which is very important and now with these three points, we enjoy tonight, and tomorrow we have to come into work and prepare and get better for the next match."
Full highlights: Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect in regards to Sunday's victory was the two-goal outburst from striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who got the Timbers rolling with his pair of tallies shortly after the second half got underway.
The striker came to Portland with impressive pedigree, having put up some gaudy numbers playing in his native Poland, but whether or not that would translate to MLS was an open question. The brace provided evidence that Niezgoda is feeling increasingly comfortable with his new team and league, with Savarese crediting him for delivering a pivotal opener that opened up the match for his team on Sunday.
"Well done from Jaro to score the great goal to put us on top," Savarese said. [After that] the game became better for us because now having to manage the match winning by a goal allows you to be able to find spaces, be a little more calm and then thank God we found the other goals to get a very important win today at home against a very good team, a team in San Jose that never quits, that always works hard. Today they made it difficult. I'm extremely proud of my players and the way they went about it today."
For Portland, the hot run of form comes at an opportune time with the MLS season entering its stretch run ahead of the playoffs, something defender Marco Farfan said carries significance as far as the team's morale amidst a hectic and congested part of their schedule.
"I think we have an amazing group and any time we step on the field we should be confident and expect to get a result," Farfan said. "But getting a couple wins in a row it definitely boosts the energy and the confidence of the group as a whole. Right now, we have a lot of midweek games, weekend games. So enjoy any win we get it, any good result we get and then focus on the next game and do video and scout and make sure that we do better, and better some things defensively, as well as offensively to make sure we get results in the future as well."