In a brilliantly exciting match that featured 37 shots, it was the most unlikely one that picked up the huge three points for Portland.
Darlington Nagbe’s turn-around shot smashed the top corner of the net, and Dallas could do nothing to bring it back level, seeing their lead in the Western Conference sit at just one point.
Despite just the one goal, the match was entertaining to say the least, with goalkeeping at a world-class level and dangerous set-pieces dotting the landscape.
So what did this delightful two hours learn us?
1) Portland is peaking at the right time
It probably should have been more than just a one-goal gap between the teams as Diego Chara was stoned twice by Raul Fernandez and stuck a one-on-one chance wide, but the Timbers absolutely deserved the three points.
The new Western Conference leaders haven’t lost since March 9. It’s a real accomplishment that their unbeaten streak, which now sits at 13 matches, is still going strong – they’ve beaten the teams they should by scorelines they should (Portland 3-0 Chivas USA), salvaged gritty draws with tough opponents on the road (A surging Chicago 2-2 Portland), and picked up clutch wins against top teams when given the chance (Portland 1-0 FC Dallas, Kansas City 2-3 Portland).
With three straight away league matches before tonight, they picked up 5 points. The home shutout streak is up to over 480 minutes now, and even the most potent offenses can’t find an answer to Donovan Ricketts and his gang in front of goal.
Portland are in the middle of a stretch where they have to face 4 playoff-position teams in 6 matches, and the other two are in 6th place, plus Chicago. So that’s 6 top-6 clubs in 6 matches, plus Chicago. “They” always say peak at the end of the season, but by playing their best soccer yet during this stretch, it’s playing out perfectly for the Timbers.
2) Anyone is vulnerable when a team is missing players
Dallas’s “Big 3” at the top were missing, and it showed. With Blas Perez on international duty with Panama and Kenny Cooper few home to take care of a family emergency, Eric Hassli only lasted 8 minutes before his back injury took its toll. That left David Arturo Ferreira and Je-Vaughn Watson to roam the attacking third, and it didn’t work out so well.
Let’s not take away from what Donovan Ricketts did between the sticks, as he was a major part of Portland’s win, stopping what chances the replacements were able to muster. But the Dallas buildup was seriously lacking at the front end, and it showed.
3) It’s the Western Conference’s season to lose
The top 3 clubs in the Western Conference this season have picked up 20 points from 13 matches against the East. The top 3 clubs in the Eastern Conference have just 15 points in 11 matches. That’s not a huge difference, but if it weren’t for Montreal, they’d have just 5 points in 7 matches.
The Western Conference has beaten up on each other, but this is their season to drop the ball.