Friday, Sept. 3: Timbers 2, Dynamo 0
The goals: Yimmi Chara was first to a rebound after a Felipe Mora header was blocked by goalkeeper Michael Nelson on a play that developed from a Sebastian Blanco cross. (1-0 Timbers, 15th minute).
Mora converts a penalty kick after VAR showed that goalkeeper Nelson tripped Mora and did not touch the ball as the two went after another Blanco pass. (2-0 Timbers, 20th minute).
What it means: The Timbers second consecutive shutout win on the road improves Portland to 9-10-3 (30 points), sixth in the Western Conference. The Dynamo are 3-10-10 (19 points) and remain at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Reaction: Less than two weeks after the Timbers looked lost in a 3-1 loss at Austin, they have found their fight. And with consecutive 2-0 road wins over first-place Seattle and last-place Houston, they are beginning to resemble the kind of team they were during the MLS is Back tournament in 2020: no fun to play against. The Timbers have (admittedly with some luck on those corner kicks at Seattle) left their last two opponents frustrated while making their chances count.
Getting Sebastian Blanco back to full fitness is a huge part of that. In addition to being one of the most offensively savvy players in MLS, Blanco's competitive spirit turns the Timbers into a more confident and hard-nosed side.
Big saves from Steve Clark, who made the MLS Team of the Week after his five-save performance at Seattle, are part of the story. On Friday, Clark finished with six saves, three of them high quality.
After controlling most of the first half, the Dynamo dictated things for the first 35 minutes of the second half. That shouldn't be a surprise because Houston was desperate and showed it in aggressively winning possession and because Portland was bound to sag in terms of energy in the Texas heat and humidity. While the Timbers defended deeper than was perhaps comfortable and would have liked more possession in the second half, they kept their distances compact and had players step up to make key interventions, often around the top of the 18-yard box.
In explaining the turnaround after giving up four goals at Austin on Aug. 21, coach Giovanni Savarese talked about simplifying and clarifying the approach to defending, but what we've seen is a buy-in to defending and to staying positionally compact that was a problem in some of the uglier outings this season.
Also notable is that this was only the fifth time in 22 MLS games that the trio of centerbacks Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic and goalkeeper Clark started together. Savarese noted the importance of continuity, but focused his comments on the defensive work of outside backs Pablo Bonilla (for Josecarlos Van Rankin, who was suspended for caution accumulation) and Claudio Bravo with support from wide midfielders Dairon Asprilla, Yimmi Chara and (off the bench) Marvin Loria and Santiago Moreno.
Though he didn't get an assist, Blanco created both goals. First he lofted a ball for Mora at the back post. Mora's header was right to goalkeeper Nelson. Yimmi Chara reacted smartly to score on the rebound. The penalty kick happened after Mora beat Nelson to a ball over the top from Blanco and was tripped by the keeper — a foul that was awarded after video review.
Mora has scored in six of his last eight starts and seven goals and two assists in the last 10 games. Mora has nine goals and four assists in MLS play. He converted on his first penalty kick attempt in an MLS game. Said Mora (through a translator): "I definitely wanted to kick it. I felt like I had the confidence this time. Thank you to my teammates, because a lot of them are really great penalty kickers."
Up next: Portland at Vancouver, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10.
The original version of this recap incorrectly listed the result of the Aug. 21 match, when the Timbers lost to Austin FC.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.