Dynamic Timbers thump Houston
The Portland Timbers' first MLS win at the revamped Providence Park was a memory maker.
Marvin Loria, in his first MLS match, scored one goal and was in on two others, and the Timbers pounded the Houston Dynamo 4-0 on Saturday.
Brian Fernandez continued his scoring spree, and Jeremy Ebobisse and Diego Valeri got in on the fun. In addition to converting a penalty kick he helped earn, Valeri assisted on the other Portland goals.
But the accomplishment the Timbers counted as most significant was the zero on the Dynamo side of the scoreboard.
It was the first time this MLS season Portland has blanked an opponent and the second time in four days on the heels of Wednesday's 4-0 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup win over the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"For me, being able to get zero goals against in this game was the biggest highlight," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. "To be able to score four goals and the way we played today, the way we handled the ball, especially the second half, I thought there were very good moments. This was a step forward to where we want to be."
The Timbers are 5-7-2 (17 points) in league play. While they are 10th in the Western Conference, they have played fewer games than most of the teams ahead of them and are only three points below the eighth-place playoff spot.
Houston is 7-4-3 (24).
A 1-0 match at halftime quickly became a Portland party thanks to the Timbers' lethal counterattack.
Loria, playing mostly on the right wing, was fouled in the box, and Valeri converted from the penalty spot in the 61st minute.
Two minutes later, Fernandez calmly finished at the end of a lightning counter for his eighth Portland goal in six appearances, including five in four MLS matches.
Ebobisse's team-leading fifth goal of the season came in the 73rd minute and might have been the best of the bunch. He cut back to his right and curled a low shot from the left side of the penalty area off the inside of the far post.
Loria, the 22-year-old Costa Rican who earned a Timbers contract after a strong 2018 season with Timbers 2, got his first MLS start because Sebastian Blanco was suspended for yellow card accumulation. His goal came in the 39th minute, when he converted a half-volley at the end of a quick counterattack.
Valeri floated a ball from the right wing that was headed down by Jorge Moreira into the path of Loria. On the half-volley, Loria drove the ball into the turf as Joe Willis reacted late and the ball deflected off the keeper's hand and inside the post.
As nice as Loria's attacking moments were, a play inside his defensive penalty area might have been his biggest.
In the 63rd minute, he won a challenge facing his own goal to deny what might have been a Houston goal, in the process directing the ball forward to ignite a three-pass sequence to Fernandez's goal.
Through an interpreter, Loria said he was very happy to contribute to the first three goals, "especially that play were (I) got to defend and help the team on the counterattack."
Loria wasn't the only young player to come up big for Portland on Saturday. With Cristhian Paredes battling a stomach illness, 24-year-old Venezuelan Renzo Zambrano made his second MLS appearance, starting alongside Diego Chara in midfield.
"In the second half he became bigger, he won more balls," Savarese said. "The first half he did well, but there were moments I felt were difficult for him. He was getting pressured. But in the second half he was very impressive in the way he played."
Another impressive performer, Valeri, was almost an afterthought. But with three assists (and essentially four since his pass for Loria resulted in DeMarcus Beasley fouling in the penalty area), Valeri is tied with Carlos Vela of Los Angeles FC for the league lead with 10 assists this season.
Portland outshot Houston 24-9 and 10-1 on target. Despite allowing four goals, Willis was Houston's best player, with several quality stops among his six saves.
Fernandez had three semi-chances in the first 10 minutes, including a quick shot from the top of the 18 that Willis did well to knock away.
Fernandez credited work in training for putting him into positions to score.
"It's also the joy of having my teammates, having a good relationship with them, being happy," Fernandez said through an interpreter. No matter the score, "we're trying to smile to each other, to support and motivate each other. That is also a huge component of making this happen game after game."
Steve Clark, who made one save, said strong defense is a foundational piece of the Timbers' approach.
"That's part of the ethos of this club, to keep clean sheets. It's a defensive club, so the clean sheet means a lot to everyone," Clark said. "It was a really good team clean sheet today. I was back there a spectator for a long time, so credit to the guys in front of me for all the work they put in."
A busy stretch for Portland continues with a Wednesday game at Montreal, followed by a home game on June 30 against FC Dallas.
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