The Portland Timbers put a bullet mark on the beginning of their final push toward the playoffs Friday night. The Timbers overwhelmed the New England Revolution in a 3-0 win at Jeld-Wen Field, before an announced sellout crowd of 20,323.
Portland scored two first-half goals and added another goal in the second half. At no point did it even look like the Revolution belonged on the same pitch.
'We played ever so well the first 45 minutes,' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'Some of the best football I've seen, not just by us, but some of the best football I've seen in Major League Soccer for 45 minutes. I don't think that anybody could deny us that it was tremendous, tremendous football at times, the way we went side to side, back, wide.
'Tonight, we showed a lot of flair, a lot of character, a lot of great movement. And at the end of the day we were very worthy of the three points.'
Portland (10-12-6, 36 points) is now in a deadlock with the Houston Dynamo for the ninth of 10 playoff spots.
'It's still in our hands, like we said earlier this week,' Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. 'At the end of the day, the group is feeling good about ourselves.'
Just as impressive as scoring three goals is that Portland has kept a clean sheet in three consecutive matches.
'We're committed to not giving up goals, because we know how crucial it is at this point in the season,' goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. 'To give up goals is shooting ourselves in the foot. At home, we've got to lock down the hatches and not give them anything. We did that tonight.'
The Timbers came out with more intensity than they have shown all season. Everything was fast. Everything was frantic. Everything seemed like it mattered.
It only took nine minutes for Portland to see that effort pay dividends.
Midfielder Sal Zizzo headed a pass to Lovel Palmer. The defender sent a lob into the 6-yard box for Diego Chara. From the moment the ball touched the ground, it was a footrace between Chara and Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis. Chara got to the ball just a split second before Reis did. Chara lunged at the ball and got his right foot on it. The ball squirted across the end line, to the right post.
'It was a play where we crossed it to the center,' said Chara, who is from Colombia, through a translator. 'And I had confidence that the ball was going to reach me, and finally I just finished the goal.'
After the goal, the Revolution (5-12-12, 27 points) did not roll over and let the Timbers have their way with them. New England worked for several deadly chances, taking seven shots in the first half and 17 in the match. The Revolution just lacked enough poison in their finish.
Portland was just as dangerous the rest of the night. The Timbers finished the first half with 13 shots and put up 20 in the match.
In the 32nd minute, striker Kenny Cooper - who has experienced his share of awful luck on goal chances this season - finally saw fortune smile on him as he put the Timbers up 2-0.
From the right side, Palmer sent a pass into the box. The ball deflected off of the foot of a Revolution defender. It bounced out to defender Mike Chabala on the left side. Chabala took a touch and sent the ball into the 6-yard box. Cooper came in behind the New England defenders. He ran straight into the ball, reaching it just inches from the goal. The ball bounced off of Cooper's thighs and into the back of the net, to the right post.
'It was a great ball from Mike Chabala,' Cooper said. 'I'm not sure goals come much closer to the actual goal than that one. I have to give him all the credit, because he put on the play for me.'
The Timbers came into the second half playing a much less free- flowing style. As New England attacked, Portland's defense had to play back on its heels to avoid a goal.
'Second half, when you put that much into the game,we knew that they were going to come out the first 15 (minutes) with a little bit of a flurry,' Spencer said. 'We weathered that storm.'
As the defense refused to break, the offense quietly waited for a scoring chance.
That opportunity came in the 66th minute off of the head of Darlington Nagbe, who started the match at striker for an injured Jorge Perlaza.
Midfielder Kalif Alhassan made a short run along the left side. When the defender closed down on him, Alhassan dished a pass to Nagbe. Standing almost exactly on the penalty spot, Nagbe leaped up and flung a blistering header to the right post, putting the Timbers up 3-0.
'I saw Kalif crossing,' Nagbe said. 'And then I just tried to get it on target, and luckily it went in the corner.'
Portland will play again on Wednesday at home against a very beatable San Jose Earthquakes. On Saturday, the Timbers travel to New York to face the Red Bulls. Even with the win over the Revolution, Portland is by no means sitting clearly in the playoffs. If the Timbers want to extend their season, they must continue to win.
'We'll rest this weekend,' Spencer said. 'We'll watch the games that are going to be played in Major League Soccer. It's a tough run in. But the thing is, if we perform and show the confidence that we showed tonight, we're going to give teams problems.'