The Portland Timbers and a fervent Timbers Army resumed normal operating procedure Friday night, clinically dispatching an overmatched an overwhelmed New England Revolution three to nil, giving the visitors a rude welcome on their first visit to the Fortress of Thorns. After a hard fought draw on the road to the Philadelphia Union last weekend, the Timbers came home to pick up where they’d left off, winning a fourth straight home match to reassert their dominance at Jeld Wen Field with goals from Diego Chara, Kenny Cooper, and Darlington Nagbe.
Manager John Spencer had spoken mid-week about the need to rotate the squad to stay fresh in the stretch run to the playoffs, and held true to his words as he made two changes to his regular starting lineup, forced to bring on Mahmoud ‘Futty’ Danso to for the injured David Horst, while opting for Nagbe to replace an under the weather Jorge Perlaza in the strike partnership with Cooper. The insertion of Nagbe in a true forward position was long overdue, but the change was better late than never and gives the home support hope that Spencer may yet be willing to let the young Liberian fulfill his destiny as the club’s talisman.
Portland were rampant for the onset, as a desire for a playoff berth was evident as the Rose City red clad Timbers challenged every ball and forced the Revs onto the back foot from the opening whistle. Portland had several half chances that New England were fortunate to keep from finding the net, but the pressure was relentless as a spate of Portland possession led to a ninth minute cross from right back Lovel Palmer that picked out Chara inside the box. The Colombian again showed his quality, taking the ball down superbly on his first touch before having the presence of mind to poke past Revs netminder Matt Reis to just sneak the ball into the far corner side netting.
The North End was enthralled as smoke enveloped the stands while raucous celebrations ensued, but less than two minutes had passed before a wake up call from the visitors brought the players back down to earth. A deflected cross fell to New England’s Milton Caraglio, who did ever so well to juggle the ball twice before turning on the bounce to volley a cracker at Troy Perkins, who was equal to the effort with a brilliant reaction save.
Timber Joey quickly got to work cutting off the first log slab to bring the crowd back to attention, and Mike Chabala would emulate that chainsaw sharp focus as he sent in a looping cross to the far post to Nagbe, who’s near miss header would be a sign of things to come. Nagbe would shortly after appear to have tallied Portland’s second when he found the back of the net in the 17th minute, but the linesman had flagged for offside on Futty in the buildup to deny the rookie.
New England’s most well known Designated Player, Benny Feilhaber, would try to impose himself on the match to turn the tide back in the Revs’ favor in the 18th minute. After making a slick overhead flick to find space behind Kalif Alhassan, he whipped in a wicked bending cross cum shot that narrowly missed finding the far post upper vee, much to Perkins’ relief. The positive sign from the creative midfielder would be one of few from the Brazilian born US National Team regular, less from his lack of desire to do so than simply being outplayed by a hungrier Portland squad.
Alhassan would counter Feilhaber with an equally dangerous cross of his own moments later, but although Cooper made contact the forward failed to find the frame while also managing to be offsides as well. The Timbers and Cooper wouldn’t have to wait long for a second, their dominance meriting a two goal advantage as Chabala’s incisive centering pass in the 31st minute deflected off the hip of Cooper to turn the ball into the net past a despairing Reis.
The supporters would be ecstatic, and Cooper would only care that the ball went in as all goals count the same, regardless of their execution. Mere moments later, Alhassan and Nagbe combined passes to perfection to find Cooper with space in the box, but the rumbling, bumbling, stumbling Texan could’ve only hoped his intentional touches were as accurate on goal as his accidental ones, his first touch failing him as the chance went begging.
Thankfully for Portland, the attack is not reliant solely on Cooper, and the full fledged assault on goal resumed in the 38th minute as Palmer whiffed in Cooper-esque fashion in his first attempt, took a second bite of the apple with a menacing strike from outside the area only to have the post reject him with Reis beaten. The rebound would come back to the Jamaican for a third volley, but this time his blast rose too high as it sailed over the crossbar.
The Timbers would have more ferocity to unleash on their guests, with Sal Zizzo’s rocket from deep being parried by Reis in first half injury time, the Revs thankful the home side was offside as they attempted to collect the ball as it spilled into the box. Hoping for a final whistle, New England would have to endure one more onslaught, Eric Brunner expertly collecting the ball at the back and sending in an inch perfect ball to Nagbe, whose well timed run caught out the Revs’ backline as he brought the ball down sublimely off his chest to set himself up for an exquisite volley. The shot seemed surely goalbound for another Nagbe wonder strike, only for a valiant Reis to stonewall him with a brave charge to stave off their hosts’ bloodlust before the break.
New England’s respite was only as long as the interval, and the Timbers came at them with equal intensity in the second stanza, determined to put the match to bed and ensure maximum points on the night. The match was still within reach for the visitors, and they created several chances through Caraglio and Shalrie Joseph, but never really tested Perkins as they failed to keep their opportunities on goal.
The killer blow would come in the 66th minute, Nagbe finally converting after Alhassan again displayed his prowess as provider. The Ghanaian opened up his defender to spot the unmarked Nagbe in the box, and the rookie made no mistake with his header this time, expertly slotting it past the reach of Reis at the far post. The rout was on, and the party in Portland had surely begun as the dream of the postseason remained alive in the hearts and minds of the Timbers Army.
The match played out with little drama as a dejected New England side saw their faint playoff hopes diminished significantly, while Spencer’s late substitions would be as demonstrative of the Timbers attacking intent as his inclusion of Nagbe up top from the start. In a rare move by the gaffer, Cooper would be replaced first, the ever Bright Dike coming on in his stead in the 80th minute, followed shortly after by Eric Alexander for Zizzo in the 82nd.
Before Alexander could enter the match, Dike would make the more impressive contribution, again highlighting his ability with an expertly timed run when released by Chara, blowing past his defender into box to round Reis, his shot on goal only kept at bay by the tracking back of Darrius Barnes to thwart him at the near post.
That would be the last best chance of the match, a fitting symbol of the quality still at the manager’s disposal on the bench, an arsenal of talent that leaves Portland feeling heady as they play their best soccer of the season. The recognition from Spencer that Nagbe’s continued presence was more important than Cooper’s in the final stages is a crucial development this season, and the strength in depth solidifying throughout the squad as the season wears on is becoming the club’s most valuable asset as they close in on a playoff berth.
This match exceeds the win over the LA Galaxy as the Timbers’ most comprehensive performance thus far this season, and the reason is crystal clear. Now that Spencer’s opened his eyes to Nagbe’s game-changing ability, there may just be light at the end of Portland’s postseason tunnel.