Portland Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins played as beautiful a match as any spectator could hope to see Saturday night. The 29-year-old from Worthington, Ohio had three saves, one of which was the defining moment in the game.
In the 42nd minute, after a throw-in, Columbus Crew forward Andres Mendoza crossed the ball to striker Tommy Heinemann for a header that seemed destined to find the back of the net.
Perkins was able to punch the ball aside, though, and with that he delivered a serious blow to the Crew's hopes of being the first MLS team to defeat Portland at Jeld-Wen Field.
'That's what I'm here to do,' Perkins said, 'and that's something I've been missing - that one big save where I keep my team in it.'
Perkins played in 26 games, starting 24, for D.C. United last year, and didn't have a play to rank with what he produced on Saturday.
'The past season, last year, I didn't have it,' he said, of such a big save.
In part, at least, that is because of the way the rest of the Timbers have been performing.
'If I (only) have to do that once every seven games, the team in front of me is pretty damn good,' Perkins said.
In five matches this season, Perkins has allowed four goals, but three came in the match against the Los Angeles Galaxy - his first outing after being sidelined with a knee injury. Since the Galaxy match, Perkins has kept a clean sheet in three of the Timbers' four MLS matches.
Perkins credits his success to being happy in Portland.
'I'm in a good place,' he said. 'My family is happy. I'm happy here. The club, yeah, we're getting wins, but, overall, training is good, the coaching staff is good, the players are fantastic. It's one of those things where when you have that atmosphere, that environment, it's easy to come in here every day and put the work in and stay focused.'
• Timbers coach John Spencer made a halftime prediction about a quick free kick by Jack Jewsbury to Kalif Alhassan yielding a goal - and it came true, as opposed to the prediction elsewhere of a rapture and end of the world happening Saturday.
'You guys should have asked me about doomsday,' Spencer said. 'I could've told you it wasn't going to come at 6 p.m. Trying to predict the goals as they're coming, it's pretty nice. No, I wish it was that easy.'
•• An interesting dynamic has come up this season with the Timbers' substitutions in midfield. For the last several matches, No. 2 SuperDraft pick Darlington Nagbe has started and been replaced by Sal Zizzo in the second half.
Zizzo's pace and tenacity on the attack have been big factors in the Timbers' scoring goals last week against the Seattle Sounders and Saturday against the Crew.
'When I come in, I like to go at players,' Zizzo said. 'I have fresh legs, and maybe some of the other players are tired going into the second half. I feel fresh, and so I just try to take advantage of that.'
Zizzo praised Nagbe's performances.
' 'D' is doing well when he starts the game,' Zizzo said. 'Whenever it's time for me to come in, I just try to do my best. I feel like I've done well the last couple of weeks, and we've been able to pull out some goals.'
••• Last week, Spencer was not at all happy about Sounders coach Sigi Schmid's assessment of their match at Qwest Field.
Spencer used last Tuesday's training session to bash Schmid's assertions that the Timbers benefited from the rainy conditions in Seattle and that the Timbers are a club that lives for set pieces.
After Columbus' defeat on Saturday, Crew coach Robert Warzycha may have given Spencer some fodder for more post-training interviews.
'I don't think we deserved to lose,' Warzycha said.
After noting that the Crew played the hottest home team in the league, he added that 'we came to play, so we didn't sit back and just defend. We could have scored a couple goals early. We missed our chances, and then obviously the (Jack Jewsbury) free kick cost us the game.'
•••• Timbers striker Kenny Cooper is perhaps the least quotable player on the club. When asked a question, there is almost always a long pause as he thinks through what he is about to say.
But after Saturday's match, Cooper did not hesitate when asked about his reputation for taking dives to try to draw fouls.
'I certainly don't want to be known as that,' Cooper said. 'And that's certainly not a reputation I want.'
Though Cooper is at the top of MLS in fouls drawn, Spencer said he does not consider the striker to be a 'flopper.'
'I watch European football regularly - four and five games a week,' Spencer said. 'And I see forwards all around the world doing the same thing.'
The big Texan is not always a pushover, though. In the first half Saturday, after being fouled by Crew defender Julius James, Cooper bull-rushed James, knocking him to the ground and drawing a yellow card.
Spencer said he likes Cooper's game most when the 6-3, 210 pounder is not on the ground.
'I've always told the forwards to stay on your feet, I don't want you diving,' Spencer said. 'I want you to be big and strong. I want you to play like a man. Because it's a man's game.
'But you can't hold people by the hand and tell them to stay on their feet. As I say, I don't think he's diving any more, or falling any more, than any forward around the league.'