Goodbye, Columbus: Brunner, Perkins outdo Crew
Sometimes winning a soccer match can come down to just a few inches spaced out over the course of a few seconds.
The Portland Timbers found those inches against the Columbus Crew Saturday night at Jeld-Wen Field.
Timbers defender Eric Brunner - who played for the Crew the last two seasons - headed in a goal that was inches from being blocked in the 46th minute, and goalkeeper Troy Perkins made a seemingly impossible save in the 42nd minute to lead the Timbers to a 1-0 win before an announced sellout crowd of 18,627.
Though many had predicted an easy win for the Timbers (5-3-2, 17 points), it was a long, hard road to their fifth MLS home victory in as many appearances.
'We have no divine right to win games here at home,' Timbers coach John Spencer said after the game. 'We need to keep having the underdog mentality. When you have the underdog mentality, you've always got something to prove. You always have a chip on your shoulder.'
The Crew (3-3-4, 13 points) came out in the first half like the club with the chip on its shoulder. They were relentless on the attack, outshooting the Timbers 5-3 in the half.
'We were very, very flat to start the game,' Spencer said. 'I didn't think we played well in the first half at all. We never won enough first balls, first headers defensively and it kind of put us in trouble.'
Near the end of the half, Perkins had a web-gem save that changed the momentum.
After a throw-in, Crew forward Andres Mendoza sent a picture-perfect cross into the 6-yard box. Striker Tommy Heinemann sold out for the ball, going airborne in a full dive. He just got his head on the ball, sending it toward the near post.
Perkins punched it out of bounds.
'It was just one of those balls the guy hit quickly,' Perkins said. 'He doesn't hit it on the ground, he just volleys it out of the air, so it has a bit of a dip on it. It was just a good ball overall.'
Spencer called Perkins' play 'a fantastic save … save of the week.'
Perkins, who finished with three saves and his third shutout, stopped short of calling it one of the best of his career.
'I don't know,' he said. 'To me, it's just another save. I don't sit there and say, 'Wow, look at that.' I sit there and go, 'That was my job.' '
The Crew then showed up one minute late to the second half - and the result was catastrophic for them.
After a Crew foul on the right side in the Timbers' attacking third, instead of lining up his teammates, midfielder Jack Jewsbury - who has given the Timbers a reputation as a side to reckon with on free kicks - took a quick kick.
'I said to them, 'There are times when a coach tells you something, and you can follow (too much) by the book to the 't' all the time,' ' Spencer said. ''Can you use a little bit of your own imagination and forget what the coach says for that one percent?' Can we slip Kalif (Alhassan) down the side?' '
That was exactly what the Timbers did.
Jewsbury slid the ball over to Alhassan. The midfielder made a short run before sending a cross to Brunner.
'I saw Brunner running in, to the far side, and I kicked it to him,' Alhassan said.
Brunner leapt up and knocked a header just to the left of Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer.
'We got it in good position and kind of caught them off guard,' Brunner said. 'I floated back, expecting it. I thought Kalif was going to drive it across, but he ended up clipping it back, and I made my run in.'
After the goal, Brunner ran to the sidelines and jumped into the arms of Spencer. A moment later, the coach was surrounded by the rest of his club in one huge group hug.
'It was good,' Spencer said, of the moment. 'But have you ever had that small-man syndrome where you're like jumping in a pack of 6-2 guys and you're trying to get your legs around somebody's waist? That was me tonight.'
After the goal, Columbus spent the next 44-plus minutes of the second half bleeding to death. Although Portland never had another good chance to score, the Timbers kept attacking the Crew goal, not allowing Columbus to generate very good offensive chances.
The Timbers will play twice more at home next week. On Wednesday, they will play a friendly against AFC Ajax, and on Sunday the Timbers will face D.C. United in a league match.
Spencer was pleased with the result against Columbus, but he was not satisfied with the performance. He said he was wary of his club becoming overconfident in its ability to win at home.
'We're really, really happy with the result,' Spencer said. 'It was a great result. I don't think it was a great performance. We can play better. But please, guys, don't think that we're going to come here every week and because we have the best atmosphere, we're going to win games. It's tough to win games.'