Santiago Moreno is a star in the making.
Portland’s 2-1 win over Atlanta United was dominated by the diminutive Colombian wingback in the first half, and it was his penalty earned and scored that made the difference in the match.
An otherwise sloppy and sleepy affair, Portland put away two penalty kicks and held on for a crucial win at Providence Park on Sunday.
This was a sluggish match. It woke up toward the end of the first half, then stayed in a weird limbo after Moreno’s penalty. Speaking of Moreno…
Santi was all over the place in the first half. An underrated part of his game this season has been his ball recoveries up the pitch. Even in a wingback/midfielder role, Moreno’s been good at pressing opponents on the ball. He was Portland’s most dangerous player by far, sending crosses into good areas and creating more chances off the dribble.
One of those tight turns created a chance that ended with Santi being brought down in the box for a penalty. He stepped up to take it himself, and confidently buried it in the top left corner.
Even with a lead, the Timbers surrendered (mostly useless) possession to Atlanta for free. Luiz Araujo had Atlanta’s best chance saved well by Aljaz Ivacic, who didn’t need to do a whole lot over the course of the afternoon.
Diego Chara was fouled in the box by Santiago Sosa, and Dairon Asprilla scored the insurance penalty to put Portland up 2-0.
It was an odd way to score two of Portland’s most important goals of the season. A look at the table will show the Timbers clinging to the final playoff spot out West by the thinnest of margins.
Ultimately, Atlanta didn’t throw a whole lot at the Timbers. Josef Martinez didn’t make an appearance until the 62nd minute, and he didn’t get his goal until the 88th.
Portland may consider themselves lucky in that sense, because the Five Stripes will be the last non-playoff team they face all season.
The tactics seem to be sound by now. Portland’s hybrid back-three-sometimes-four defense utilizes the wingbacks’ abilities in attacking spaces (especially Moreno’s), while keeping their current three best center backs on the pitch.
Asprilla starting in place of Niezgoda has been useful, as well. Dairon offers more tactical flexibility than Niezgoda, and his constant energy is very useful in the high press.
Zac McGraw held things down on the back line, playing a full 90 for the third consecutive match alongside Dario Zuparic and Bill Tuiloma.
- Juan David Mosquera made the 18 for Portland, but couldn’t play because his work visa wasn’t approved in time by MLS.
- Giovanni Savarese was not on Portland’s bench — he was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
- Eryk Williamson also missed out on yellow card accumulation.