The Portland Timbers exited last Friday’s landmark 2-1 win over their rival Seattle Sounders full of optimism (as they should have). The win momentarily moved Portland above the playoff line and secured the Cascadia Cup — possibly Portland’s only hardware of the 2022 season.
But anyone paying attention to Portland’s upcoming schedule might not have been so rosy. Of the six remaining games, only Atlanta United are situated outside the playoffs in the current table.
The odds were always stacked against the Timbers tonight. In Portland’s two previous trips to Austin, the Timbers lost by a combined score of 7-2. Those were against Austin’s expansion side, as well, a team that suffered a Western Conference-high 21 losses and second-worst 31 points in 2021.
That trend died midweek, as the Timbers somehow overcame a shot deficit of 26-14 to bring a crucial 2-1 win back to Portland.
** BUT FIRST! HERE’S YOUR REMINDER THAT THERE WAS A 2-HOUR LIGHTNING DELAY, ICYMI **
Austin flew out of the gates from opening kickoff, squashing Portland with relentless possession. Aljaz Ivacvic was forced into a big save early, but the Timbers found counterattacking daylight against Austin’s super-high lines, especially on corner kicks.
Despite countless missed opportunities on these counterattacks, Portland would eventually find their breakthroughs.
It began with Bill Tuiloma’s header off an Eryk Williamson free kick assist — his second in the past two matches.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) September 1, 2022
MVP frontrunner Sebastian Driussi predictably retook the Golden Boot lead — it was his goal which brought Austin back into the match in the 79th minute — but like Seattle, Austin arrived with too little too late.
In a game where Austin bossed possession and kept the Timbers on the ropes (and Diego Fagundez created 9 chances), it was Zac McGraw playing the unlikeliest hero role, cleaning up a saved Williamson shot in the 73rd minute. It was one of Williamson’s five chances created on the night.
Speaking of Williamson, the USMNT hopeful has been involved in all of Portland’s last four goals (drawing the penalty against Seattle, the two free kick deliveries, and the saved shot for McGraw’s tap-in). Gregg Berhalter said Williamson would need to be at the top of his game for the rest of the season if hew was to be considered for a World Cup roster spot, and the 25-year-old midfielder is doing his best.
But despite the heroics of the Williamson-Diego Chara midfield, tonight’s flowers can only go to one group: the back line. The back-four of Claudio Bravo, Dario Zuparic, McGraw and right-back Tuiloma only let five shots leak on target, with Ivacic making four saves (and the woodwork helping out a bit).
I doin’t care how many expected goals Austin had (they’ve been over-performing those numbers all year anyways). I don’t care how many times they hit the post. We know what this Timbers team is good and bad at by this point. All that matters are results.
And what a massive result Portland pulled off tonight.
Newest Timber Juan David Mosquera arrived in Portland in time for Seattle game last week and made the trip to Austin with the team, though he did not play in either game.
This was McGraw’s first MLS goal. That makes me smile.
portland now owns their all-time series vs Austin FC (3-0d-2). This was the first time a home team has dropped points in the series.
As with the last recap, Portland end the night just barely on the good side of the playoff line.
Next up, the Timbers host Atlanta United this Sunday. Kickoff is 2:55 p.m. on big FOX.