The Portland Timbers needed just one goal to defeat Chivas USA on Wednesday night.
Surprising that the goal came off a corner kick?
The Timbers have become one of the league's best sides when the run of play is stopped.
What is surprising is that the corner kick that set up defender Eric Brunner's header in the 44th minute came off the boot of defender Mike Chabala rather than midfielder Jack Jewsbury.
At the beginning of the season, Jewsbury took all of the Timbers' corner kicks. With the addition of Chabala, though, the Timbers have more options. The right-footed Jewsbury now takes corner kicks from the left side, while the left-footed Chabala takes corners from the right side.
Think of it like a pitcher throwing a curveball. From the left side, Jewsbury's ball starts farther out and swings in toward the goal. The same thing happens when Chabala takes corner kicks from the right side.
'Basically, the method behind it is that we have swinging balls coming from both sides, which we feel is a bit more dangerous and puts goalies in a tougher situation,' Jewsbury said.
Chabala added that the balls swinging into the box make it easier for the Timbers' taller players to get in position to score.
'Guys can run onto it a little bit easier than when they're in-swinging,' Chabala says. 'When they're out-swinging, the defending side has a better chance of heading the ball away (because) it's already going away from goal.'
The decision to have Chabala take corners from the right side came after he took the corner kicks for the Timbers in a friendly against Club Atletico Independiente upon his arrival in Portland.
'I took it the first game I was here against Independiente and (Timbers coach) John (Spencer) just said, 'I'm going to have you in-swinging,' ' Chabala said. 'Jack swings a good ball. But with the left footer naturally in-swinging, it makes it a difficult ball for the other team.'
Taking corner kicks is not the only thing Chabala can do when the run of play has stopped. The defender has an absolutely incredible throw-in. On one throw-in during the 1-0 MLS victory over Chivas USA at Jeld-Wen Field, Chabala had the ball 30 yards from goal. Taking a running start, his two-handed overhead throw sailed so far that Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy had to come off his line and catch the ball inside the 6-yard box.
Chabala's ability to chuck the ball with his hands is no accident. He has been practicing it since he was in youth soccer.
'One of my under 11- or 12-year-old coaches had a really good throw, and I was really mesmerized by it,' Chabala said. 'I was like, 'How did you do that?' And he started teaching me. I started practicing it, which is funny and odd for a 10-year-old.'
Chabala's throw-ins make the Timbers a very dangerous side wherever the ball goes out of bounds in their attacking third.
'Being able to throw the ball in that far, it's a weapon,' Chabala said. 'It's almost like a corner kick, and we have some big guys in the box. If we decide to throw guys in the box and just mix it up, it can cause teams problems.'
• After opening the match on the bench against the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday, Brunner made the most of Spencer's decision to start him against Chivas. Brunner scored the only goal and was a lock-down defender all night.
'I wanted to come in and prove that I deserve to be in there,' Brunner said. 'Everyone who stepped on the field wanted to do that. Regardless of who's starting, you want to show to the staff that you belong there. And if we get shutouts and we keep winning, everyone on the field is doing that.'
Spencer was proud of the way Brunner played.
'He had a little blip about a month ago,' Spencer said. 'After leaving him out, he's shown a lot - a lot of character to prove to us that he shouldn't be left out.'
•• The Timbers' ability to hold on to a 1-0 lead for an entire half while Chivas USA was throwing everything it had at them may be a coming of age of sorts for the young Portland club.
'We've grown up quickly this year,' Spencer said. 'We grew up after we had that slump after winning the home games. We came out at the end of the tunnel. And we've grown up a little bit. I'm very, very pleased for the guys who have put in so much work for us.'
Midfielder Eric Alexander, who was traded to the Timbers from FC Dallas for defender Jeremy Hall on Thursday, made his debut in the 81st minute.
'It was great,' Alexander said. 'Obviously there's such great support here. It was fun. I enjoyed it. I'm happy we got the good result.'
Alexander has been fitting in well with the Timbers.
'All of the guys have been super nice and welcoming, and all the coaching staff, as well,' he said. 'It's a pretty good fit.'
Alexander said he believes his style works well with how the Timbers play.
'Most teams like to keep the ball, and that's what I'm good at,' Alexander said. 'We did a good job of that tonight, and it helped us get the win.'
••• A win is a win, but for Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, it means so much more when it is attached to a clean sheet.
'It's huge for the defense as well as for me,' Perkins said. 'It's just one of those things where we want to fight it out. And it was just a grind. (A clean sheet) is a statement on a win. If you win 3-1, 5-2, something like that, it's a win. But when you win 1-0, 2-0, it's a huge statement and there's a huge exclamation point.'