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  • 16 Sep 2014

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Timbers break through

For weeks, Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter had been saying that his club was close to breaking through. For weeks, he had promised that while the Timbers still did not have a victory, they were making improvements.

Saturday night at Jeld-Wen Field was not the Timbers' best offensive match of the season. It might not have even been Portland’s best defensive match of the season. What it was, though, was a complete match. Portland played well on offense, well on defense and got an extraordinary game from striker Ryan Johnson, who scored two goals on the night. That combination was enough for the Timbers to walk away with a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo before an announced sellout crowd of 20,674.

“It feels good,” Porter said. “It’s the first of hopefully many. I’m proud of the guys.”

Johnson became the second Timber in two weeks to score two goals in the second half, joining Ryan Johnson, who scored twice last week in a road tie with the Colorado Rapids.

The Houston match started with both clubs keeping the ball mostly in the middle third of the pitch. The Dynamo (3-2-0) looked as though they were sitting back, waiting to see what Portland would throw at them. The Timbers (1-1-3, 6 points) looked tentative and unsure of how to bring the match to the Dynamo.

The Dynamos' physical play made the Timbers have to turn to their bench far earlier than Portland would have liked. In the 18th minute, defender David Horst was trying to run down a ball before a Dynamo attacker could reach it. Just as he got to the ball, Horst turned his knee awkwardly and had to be taken off the pitch on a stretcher. He was replaced by Andrew Jean-Baptiste.

Then, in the 29th minute, Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri went up for a header at midfield and caught an elbow in the face that opened a cut. Valeri was unable to continue and was replaced by Kalif Alhassan.

After the injuries, Portland began playing with more urgency, pushing the ball up the pitch into more dangerous areas.

“We had a bit of adversity with two guys go down with injuries,” Porter said. “But as the half went on, we kept growing.”

Putting the ball into more dangerous areas did not translate into opportunities to score for the Timbers, though. Portland finished the first half with one shot, which came from Valeri in the ninth minute and went directly to Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.

Houston finished the half with five shots, but none of them found the back of the net, either. After 45 minutes, the clubs went into the locker room tied 0-0.

The Timbers finally broke through in the 55th minute with a bit of sorcery from midfielder Diego Chara and a bit of precision from striker Ryan Johnson.

Chara took the ball down the right side. With all the room in the world, he was able to take his time and search for a runner. When he saw Johnson move into the box unmarked, Chara sent a perfect strike to Johnson, and found him in stride. From three yards, Johnson sent a right-footed shot at goal. The ball bounced off Hall’s leg and into the back of the net.

“It was a great ball from Chara,” Johnson said. “I just made my near post run. I got just enough on it. With the slick surface (of the Jeld-Wen Field turf) all you have to do is get something on it going toward the goal and it will go in.”

After the goal, Portland did not allow the Dynamo the chance to concentrate on finding the equalizer. The Timbers continued pushing, putting the Dynamo under pressure.

In the 74th minute, Ryan Johnson gave the Timbers an insurmountable lead with his second goal of the night.

Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe took the ball in the middle of the pitch and kicked it out to Johnson, who was open down the left touch line. Johnson fielded the pass and was off to the races.

As Johnson moved into the 18-yard box, three Dynamo defenders caught up to him. With pressure bearing down on him, Johnson fired, sending the ball to the top right corner, where no goalkeeper in the world could have stopped it.

“I timed my run,” Johnson said. “I got behind the defense and just tucked it away.”

The Timbers' next two matches will be against the San Jose Earthquakes. The Timbers will play the Earthquakes at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field, then at 8 p.m. April 21 in San Jose. 

“We’ll go back to work,” Porter said. “And we’ll get ready for San Jose.”