The Portland Timbers outlasted Sporting Kansas City in a 1-nil triumph Saturday night, and despite scoring less than the visitors, the Timbers were happy to collect all three points after a 41st minute own goal from Chance Myers provided the margin of victory.
The win snapped Portland’s four match losing streak while ending SKC’s seven match undefeated run, handing the league leaders their first loss of the season while providing the Timbers Army something to celebrate. Sporting will feel disconsolate their good fortune deserted them, the old adage of scoring more goals than your opponent guaranteeing success not ringing true as they conceded the match’s lone tally.
As the Timbers trotted out for the opening whistle, manager John Spencer employed a defensive minded formation to try and slow the Sporting juggernaut, a squad that had crushed all before them in their path and looked poised to add Portland to their list of vanquished foes. Lovel Palmer displaced Eric Alexander from the starting lineup, Diego Chara shifting wide opposite Darlington Nagbe, while Palmer slotted into a holding role alongside captain Jack Jewsbury.
The move was a pragmatic one by the Portland gaffer, opting for a more conservative approach in the face of a potential fifth straight loss, and in the end Palmer’s inclusion proved the difference maker as the expected onslaught from Sporting was neutralized. Despite Troy Perkins leaving hearts in mouths as he fumbled the ball on several occasions, the Timbers recorded their first clean sheet of the season to make the manager’s decisions appear prescient.
Early on Sporting created their best opportunity, CJ Sapong beating Hanyer Mosquera at the byline before cutting back a 45 degree pass to Kei Kamara, whose strike was on frame but straight at Perkins in the 8th minute. Neither side could unlock the other, but as the half wore down, the visitors would be ruing the fact that their finishing touch abandoned them on the wrong end of the pitch.
As the 40 minute mark approached, audible prayers could be heard in the Timbers Army for Portland to make it to the break at least on level terms. A minute later, those prayers were answered as Chara pounced on a loose ball in midfield and chipped it towards the right corner, where an onrushing Kris Boyd caught up to it before it crossed the end line. Boyd checked back across the box and tried to pick out Nagbe at the far post, but Sporting’s defense would intervene with calamitous consequences for the visitors.
Myers appeared to have the situation well in hand as he leapt to head the ball clear, but lack of communication with Julio Cesar saw the two collide in midair. Instead of a simple clearance, Myers’ header found the back of the net in the precise fashion all forwards favor. Finding his team down a goal for the first time on their travels this campaign, netminder Jimmy Nielsen was understandably furious after his shutout was ended.
While the Timbers faithful were delighted as smoke and fire erupted in the North End, Nielsen was thankful not to be two down shortly after the interval when Nagbe released Chara down the right flank, the Colombian curling his grass cutting cross into the path of countryman Jorge Perlaza. Perlaza looked perfectly placed to power home from inside the box, only to opt to let the ball pass through to Boyd, who put the ball on target but thwarted by Nielsen’s advance off his line.
That would be the last offensive opportunity on frame for the home side, and the second half played out as a display of defensive resiliency. SKC’s frustrations grew as the match continued, centerback Aurelien Collin releasing his frustration on Steve Purdy’s midsection as he lunged to strike a ball in Portland’s box. The Frenchman would earn a yellow card for his dangerous play, and the Timbers kept on with their staunch denial of Sporting’s physical attack.
Moments later, Portland’s last best chance came as Palmer sent a searching ball to Chara in the corner, who did well to cut inside his marker and square a pass to Jewsbury, whose first time shot looked goalbound before Collin deflected it wide for a corner in the 68th minute.
Both managers would begin to ring the changes soon after, SKC’s Peter Vermes bringing on Teal Bunbury for Bobby Convey in the 71st, followed by Paolo Nagamura replacing Cesar in the 76th. Freddie Braun would enter in the 78th minute after Purdy left injured, while Alexander added to the midfield depth when he replaced Perlaza in the 84th minute.
Sporting would try to surmount the deficit late on as they piled on the pressure, while Portland worked hard to stave off their opponents and run out the clock, Franck Songo’o coming on in the 89th minute for Nagbe. SKC nearly found a stoppage time equalizer as a long throw in was completely missed by Perkins as Bunbury challenged, the goalkeeper fortunate Mosquera was alert to the danger in clearing off the line before the ball could be corralled.
The final whistle blew shortly after, and Portland would let out a sigh of relief as they stopped the rot to earn their second win of the season. There were few complaints with the style or serendipity that sealed their success at the Fortress of Thorns, a welcome result for supporters who had suffered through the most trying period of the club’s MLS era.
Portland will look to build on their positive momentum when they take on the Impact in Montreal next weekend. If the ball continues to bounce their way, the Timbers could embark on a new streak that sees them climb up from the bottom of the Western Conference table.