What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
When did we last score two goals from set pieces in the same match? This is a genuine question. I can't remember the last time we saw two rather brilliant set pieces within a month of each other, let alone in the same match.
If we glean anything from the match, we may as well start with Javier Morales. There have, this season, been some rumblings of doubt and uncertainty about Javier's form and consistency. That magic touch, the free kick ability, the whole thing: We wondered — perhaps rightly so — if he still had it.
His set piece goal last night seemed to indicate that he does indeed still have that magic: Curling over the wall with the greatest of ease, a bit of inventiveness saw the Claret and Cobalt lengthen their lead. Bendik had no chance — and those are the sorts of goals we need. Or at least that we desire.
The first goal was rather a thing of beauty, too. Fabian Espindola reopened his account at the goalscoring bank with aplomb, with his coordinated strike off a set piece cleaving the wall in twain. How exactly it shot past everybody I'll never know — but my word. What a goal to open the occasion.
Neither of those goals could have come without work around the outside of the box, with Javier Morales doing excellently to be fouled twice. A bit of an odd way to put it, I suppose, but that is what it is. The best part? He got up and got on with things. There wasn't anything tentative about his play, and he did well to find five key passes and an assist. He is, as ever, the keymaster.
If Javier is the keymaster, Kyle Beckerman is the gatekeeper. By and large, Portland was kept quiet — even with their extended spells of possession in the second half, boosted by their goal. (And what a goal, right? Sigh.) But by and large, the Timbers were incredibly quiet. Here are three names you'd expect to do well on any given occasion for them: Darlington Nagbe. Danny Mwanga. Franck Songo'o. If you'd told me none of the three had played last night, I might have almost believed you. They were kept as quiet as little mice, hardly getting involved in play. You could occasionally hear the pitter patter of their little feet, but those three were almost woeful.
Who is that down to? Kyle Beckerman, first and foremost. Our captain was in fine form with 70 of his 78 passes finding teammates, three interceptions, and three of four tackles won. 78 passes is a fantastic performance in this league — it's not quite in the top this season, but it's nearly 20 more passes than he makes on average. By my count, that's quite good. Keep in mind, Kyle averages the third-most passes in the league, behind Dax McCarty and Jeff Lawrentowicz.
Beckerman was tasked with a bit more of the dirty work, with Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson both pushing further forward, with both of them occupying almost the entirety of the midfield throughout the match. With the captain to do the dirty work, both were able to really look for those vital passes and moments, and as a result, we saw Grabavoy nearly getting on the end of some excellent chances.
With Tony Beltran pushing further up the pitch on the right side than he has been in recent weeks, play was stretched and Portland looked uncomfortable. Chris Wingert sat a bit further back on the left, giving Olave a chance to slide further right to cover runs on that side, and Borchers some room to really control the central passageways. It was a rather complete defensive performance — the one we really needed. Now, we did end up giving away an almost flukey goal, and we absolutely must work that out of our system before somebody better punishes us. But you can't ignore all the good work done simply for that.
Our work up front was good, but we can see that the dynamic isn't quite right with Paulo and Espindola. Not on a personal level, mind, but on a playing-style level: they both make similar sorts of runs, and while they don't get in the way of each other, it does lend an air of predictability for defenders. It was sort of the opposite with Bonfigli: The kid was unpredictable, but unfortunately, that applied to his runs up front. He's not quite on the same page with them, and that's sort of a disappointment. But his attitude and approach were top-notch, and he was aiming for creative runs — given more time in the team, he and the rest will improve in that regard. I'm sure of it.
A final word for Nick Rimando, who was stellar at the back once again. How he makes the stops he does is beyond me. The man knows exactly where every part of his body is at all times, and that means so much more than an increase in height ever could.
But all told, a good win, and one not worth complaining about. We're in the playoffs with a few games left, and we can push on from here. Let's have at it.