By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.– The Timbers needed a win. And despite two major first-half injuries and taking on one of the hottest teams in MLS, a victory is exactly what they delivered Saturday night.
Led by two Ryan Johnson goals, and the outstanding play of their midfield, the Portland Timbers dominated the second half and collected their first win of the season, defeating the Houston Dynamo, 2-0 at a cold and rainy Jeld-Wen Field.
After a first half that saw them lose two players to injury, the Timbers played some of their best soccer of the season in the final 45 minutes. Johnson’s two goals came as a result of attacking play that left the Dynamo with little chance of stopping Portland’s relentless possession game.
Saturday’s win provided a much needed boost to the Timbers, who needed a win to gain belief in the system installed by Caleb Porter, who recorded his first victory as a professional head coach on Saturday night.
“It’s important to get results for the players to realize what they’re capable of doing and how powerful this way of playing can be,” said Porter. “This was a big step in the right direction. That was that breakthrough I’ve been looking for.”
After conceding first in every match this season, the Timbers were able to get on the board first when Johnson got the Timbers on the board ten minutes into the second half. Johnson’s goal gave the Timbers their first lead of the season and also provided a shot in the arm to Portland.
Johnson’s goal caused a snowball effect that led to even more possession and pressing play from Portland.
“It helped us get our second and we could’ve had the third and fourth too,” the Jamaican International said.
For the last three weeks, Porter had been stressing how well the Timbers could play once they had a lead to play with. And his prediction proved true.
“I think you saw tonight what can happen when we get up on teams,” Porter said.
The presence of new starter Rodney Wallace and an attacking Darlington Nagbe provided a force to be reckoned with for the Timbers. In addition, Will Johnson and Diego Chara were all over the pitch and combined for 100 successful passes. Postmatch, Porter called the play of his attacking players “fantastic.”
Despite losing David Horst and Diego Valeri to injuries in the first 30 minutes of the match, Portland was able to maintain its composure and was able to find holes amid the Dynamo’s back-line. First-half substitutes, Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Kalif Alhassan stepped in as injury replacements and filled in admirably.
“You got to give a lot of credit to those guys that came in. We didn’t miss a beat,” Will Johnson said after the match.
The inclusion of Alhassan also forced the Timbers to change from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2 with Nagbe being paired at forward with Ryan Johnson. Nagbe played his best soccer of the short season and was able to provide tons of space for his forward partner.
While the Dynamo were able to exert themselves physically in the first half, the sloppy playing conditions and relentless Portland attack seemed to overrun them during the second half. On the other end of the pitch, Houston were missing two key starters, in Will Bruin and Boniek Garcia.
Houston came into the game on a three-game winning streak and almost took a lead when Cam Weaver was left open six yards from goal midway through the first half. However, he sent his shot over the bar and Houston would never have another good chance to score.
Weaver, who was making his first start of the season, seemed to struggle against Mikael Silvestre, who played his best game since coming to the MLS in the offseason. Weaver’s strike partner Giles Barnes couldn’t do much better and ended up with more offsides (2) than shots (1).
The Dynamo were without two key attacking players in injured starters Will Bruin and Oscar Boniek Garcia.
Here are the match highlights: