Diego Valeri (@TimbersFC)
After seeing rain for the past week, Portland was treated to clear skies and sunshine for their match against Toronto FC. Some would say it was an omen of good things for the Timbers – and it would be hard to dispute that sentiment after the performance they put on.
The Timbers beat Toronto handily by the margin of 4-0. After a suspect first half, it was all clear skies and smiles for the boys in green on a beautiful Saturday night. In a game Portland badly needed to win to keep pace in the Western playoff race, the Timbers couldn’t have asked for a better opponent than the lowly Toronto FC – a team that had won only four games coming into the match.
The first half showed what Portland was lacking, however. Despite the great final score, the Timbers looked to match Toronto for first prize in poor play in the first 45 minutes. The return of Will Johnson was a boost, but Portland was still without the Jamaican trio (Ricketts, Ryan Johnson and Powell), and were without the services of Zemanski and Piquionne. But the most costly loss was Diego Valeri, who started the game on the bench. Coming off of a groin injury, Valeri was set to play limited minutes in his first game back as a sub.
The real blessing for Portland, despite being so shorthanded, was the awful play of Toronto. Robert Earnshaw, the team’s number 10, played with zero confidence. In the few chances he had to strike at goal, he missed badly. Being Toronto’s most forward player, his lack of finishing form allowed the Timbers to settle into an easy groove while they worked out the kinks of a new lineup.
Portland had several chances in the first half, but the interplay of a squad so unfamiliar with each other seemed to deny Portland that final finish. Portland was finally able to capitalize, however, on a strong kick by Kalif Alhassan in extra time of the first half. And it was the one goal lead going into halftime that seemed to set Portland straight again.
Starting the second half, Portland played with more confidence, but still lacked the finesse to really put Toronto in a hole. The solution to Portland’s problem came in the 77th minute when Valeri subbed in for Alhassan. It was a team transformed with Valeri steadying the midfield. In just minutes, every player on the pitch seemed to know their role again. 6 minutes after entering the game, Valeri helped the Timbers seal the win with an assist by giving Rodney Wallace a great shot on goal.
And two goals would’ve been enough to put away Toronto. The ‘Valeri Factor’ was in effect in defense as well. The Timbers didn’t have any problems with transition defense after he entered the game, and Toronto was never any real threat to pull a goal back.
What Toronto didn’t count on was a resurgent Timbers squad taking out their frustrations from weeks past on a second rate team. Will Johnson scored in the 87th minute to a thunderous roar from the crowd – a sound that was only matched when Valeri himself capped a perfect return with a late goal in stoppage time to put the crowd all the way over the top. Had the ref not blown the whistle, the Timbers and Valeri could’ve scored goals at will from that point forward.
The win puts the Timbers at 42 points on the year, tying them with Colorado for the fourth spot – though the Timbers still have a game in hand. The Timbers next game is away to Chivas and they should have much of the team reassembled for that match.
Seen and Heard:
Ben Zemanski made the most of his red card suspension by having a meet and greet outside of the stadium with fans before the game.
Injured Mikel Silvestre was seen in the suites pregame – good to see him still around the team while he recovers from his ACL treatment.
David Horst (tibia surgery) was mingling in the press box and looks to start getting some action in reserves games while the coaching staff evaluates his conditioning for return.
Photo credit to @TimbersFC