The match looked as if it were over.
The Portland Timbers and the Los Angeles Galaxy had played to a 1-1 stalemate after 90 minutes Saturday night at Jeld-Wen Field, but five minutes of stoppage time remained.
Four minutes into stoppage time, the Timbers earned a free kick from the right side of the pitch. Midfielder Diego Valeri lined up and sent a gorgeous volley into the 18-yard box. Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste knocked in a header, giving the Timbers a 2-1 MLS victory.
I felt the adrenaline pumping, Jean-Baptiste said. I faked my marker right-left-right and then followed the flight of the ball to the back post and made sure I got a good header.
"I barely even saw it go in. All I saw was (Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini) dive and the fans cheering and I saw the net move. That was more than enough to tell me it was in.
Just like that, the Timbers had pulled the rug out from beneath the two-time defending MLS Cup champions.
Portland coach Caleb Porter tried to offer perspective.
To be clear, its three points, nothing more, nothing less, he said.
But few at Jeld-Wen probably shared Porters sentiment.
The victorious players took full advantage of the announced sellout crowd of 20,674 cheering for them as if they were a Roman battalion returning home from a successful campaign. The march before the Timbers Army was exaggeratedly slow and neither fans, nor players could have been happier about that.
Heading into the match, it was gut-check time for the Timbers for the first time since March 9. After losing to the Montreal Impact 2-1 in the second match of the season, the Timbers rattled off a 15-match unbeaten streak. That streak came to an end on July 7 with a 1-0 road loss to the Columbus Crew.
How would the Timbers respond?
Portland answered with an exclamation point.
I knew this would be the response, Porter said. When youre a team that has mental toughness and character and talent, you get better through adversity. You dig deeper, you fight harder, you get better.
"We picked ourselves back up and went back to work.
The Timbers (8-2-9, 33 points) are now in sole custody of second place in the MLS Western Conference, trailing Real Salt Lake (11-5-4, 37 points). The Galaxy (9-8-3, 30 points) dropped to fourth.
Both the Timbers and the Galaxy were playing shorthanded, with players on national team duty. The Timbers were without starting midfielders Rodney Wallace and Will Johnson. The Galaxy was without star striker Landon Donovan.
The match, which was scheduled for an 8 p.m. start, got under way 23 minutes late. The Galaxy who set the tone early. The Timbers tried to do what they do best keep possession, dictate the play. But the Galaxy were more capable of handling the Timbers' style than has many teams in MLS.
In the 17th minute, the Timbers turned over the ball at midfield after a foul call on Ryan Johnson that drew boos from the crowd.
The Galaxy took a quick free kick, and defender Sean Franklin took the ball down the right touchline. Franklin passed to Hector Jimenez. The Galaxy midfielder dribbled the ball into the right corner before sending a high volley to the middle of the 6-yard box.
The pass found midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who knocked a header to the left post, leaving Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts no chance to stop the score from becoming 1-0.
The Timbers pulled even in the 27th minute.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe drew a foul on the right side of the pitch, 25 yards from goal. Valeri rolled a free kick to Nagbe on the right side of the penalty box. Nagbe took a touch, but was marked tightly by Sarvas. Nagbe was able to slip a pass between Sarvas legs into the middle of the 6-yard box.
Johnson was streaking into the box unmarked and got on the end of Nagbes pass. Staring at the open left side of the net, all Johnson had to do was tap in the ball and the score was knotted.
It was a set play that weve been working on in training, Johnson said. We played a quick ball to isolate Darlington because hes so good in the box one-on-one. He was able to get a cross into the box, and I was there to poke it in.
"It was a good set play.
Cudicini tried to argue with referee Baldomero Toledo that Johnson was offside, but the goal stood.
After looking dazed for a moment, the Galaxy again began dominating the match. Los Angeles nearly went up in the 40th minute, as striker Gyasi Zardes knocked in a header after a free kick at midfield. The Timbers Army groaned and the Jeld-Wen Field scorekeeper put a 2 on the scoreboard. The 2 was quickly replaced with a 1, though, as Toledo had whistled the play dead, calling Zardes for a foul.
The sides went to the locker room at halftime with the score tied 1-1.
The shocking stat from the first half was that the possession- oriented Timbers trailed the Galaxy in possession .475 to .525. Ricketts helped keep Portland in the game with two saves in the half, including an out-of-this-world diving stop on a Juninho free kick from 22 yards in the 38th minute.
The ball was heading toward the top right corner, before Ricketts extended his 6-4 frame and knocked the ball away to safety.
Ricketts finished the match with four saves.
The Galaxy continued looking like the better side as the second half began. But with the Timbers more organized on the back line, Portland was able to limit Los Angeles chances and produce counterattacks of its own.
By the 60th minute, the tide of battle had turned in the Timbers' favor. Portland finally began pushing the ball up the pitch and peppering the Galaxy goal with shots.
The Timbers finished the match with .492 percent of the possession and took seven shots to 10 by the Galaxy.
The shot that really counted, though, was the one in stoppage time by Jean-Baptiste.
The Timbers will have a chance to continue their momentum and perhaps begin a new unbeaten streak when they play the Philadelphia Union on the road next Saturday. Then Portland returns home for a July 24 friendly against Norwich City FC.
The win over the Galaxy continues to give our team belief, Porter said. When we needed to dig deep, we dug deep and made a play.
"Were capable of getting a result like we did tonight against everybody. Its a step in the right direction.