The Portland Timbers have officially turned a corner.
The Timbers dropped to last place in the MLS standings amid a five-game losing streak early this season, conceding 17 goals and posting a negative-11 goal differential over their first six games. But Portland has looked like a different team over the last three weeks, and the club is only getting better.
Portland (2-5-1, 7 points) put in arguably its best performance of the season Saturday to beat a strong Toronto FC (4-2-1, 13 points) club 2-1 at BMO Field in Toronto, Canada. The Timbers have now won back-to-back games on the road.
“It feels good, for sure, especially because this is our team,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. “This is the Portland Timbers that we know, with the spirit, with the mentality, with the heart, with the sacrifice inside the field.”
Toronto struck first Saturday with a goal from Jonathan Osorio. Eriq Zavaleta beat Timbers center back Bill Tuiloma to a corner kick from Alejandro Pozuelo in the 20th minute and headed the ball down into the box. The Timbers allowed the ball to bounce around before it landed at the feet of Osorio, who scored to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.
Toronto earned the corner kick after Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark, who started over Jeff Attinella Saturday, knocked away a free kick from Pozuelo, instead of catching it.
Apr 27, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Portland Timbers defender Bill Tuiloma (25) celebrates his goal against Toronto FC during the first half at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Portland has conceded first in seven out of eight games this season. Prior to Saturday, the Timbers had posted five losses and a draw when allowing the first goal this year.
But the Timbers did a tremendous job to respond after conceding first Saturday.
Portland pressured Toronto for the remainder of the half, outshooting the home team 8-5 and earning four corner kicks in the first 45 minutes. The Timbers, who caused Toronto a lot of problems with their crosses throughout the game, looked as dangerous as they’ve looked all season in the attack.
The Timbers found the equalizer just two minutes after allowing the first goal. Tuiloma sent a beautiful strike into the net on a volley after a corner kick from Diego Valeri in the 22nd minute. Valeri has six assists this season, which is tied for the league-lead.
“It feels awesome,” Tuiloma said. “The team battled until the end. We gave it our all. Everyone knew what we needed to do on the field and we knew what Toronto was going to give us. It was a great team effort.”
Portland then took the lead in the second half. Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse made a diving header to redirect a cross from Sebastian Blanco into the net in the 70th minute and give the Timbers the decisive 2-1 lead. Ebobisse leads the Timbers with four goals this season.
Toronto didn’t come all that close to finding the equalizer. The club’s best chance came in the 81st minute when forward Ayo Akinola put his shot over the net after a dangerous cross from Pozuelo.
“I think it was a tenacious performance from the guys,” Ebobisse said. “Obviously to go down 1-0 early on in the game, we could have put our heads down. Maybe at the beginning of the year, we might have started a little infighting, but I think with last week and this week, we’ve seen a little more togetherness and tenacity in the group.”
The Timbers have employed the same 4-4-2 formation and started nearly the same lineup in each of their last two games. It has paid off. The club earned its first win of the season in Columbus last week before beating Toronto Saturday.
Portland is in the middle of 12 straight games on the road to open the season, due to construction at Providence Park. The club had always hoped to earn at least 12 points from that stretch of games, a mark that seemed nearly impossible just a few weeks ago.
But after a terrible start to the season, the Timbers now have seven points in eight matches and are clearly moving in the right direction.
“Over the last three weeks, the guys have stepped up the level,” Savarese said. “Today was a very difficult victory against a very good team in a difficult stadium. The guys put in everything to make sure we got the win that we were looking for.”
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