But even if the team is sore on Sunday, it can thank its blessings for escaping the night with a 1-0 victory.
Plagued by several no-calls and some physical play from Columbus, the Timbers were able to sneak in a goal —on you guessed it, a set piece—to earn the team’s fifth straight win at home and preserve Major League Soccer’s only perfect home record.
Coming off a 3-0 loss at San Jose, Columbus abandoned their 4-5-1 formation in favor of the 4-4-2 in hopes of generating more offense. It started the game at a plodding rate, content to maintain possession and work their way into the new formation. But Portland found its rhythm and kept the pressure on the Crew, creating opportunities without success.
The early struggles were no surprise after the team’s poor practice leading into the game.
“I thought we were very very flat in the first half,” Timbers coach John Spencer said. “Didn’t think we played well in the first half at all. … When you practice flat, you play flat, simple as that.”
The Timbers also had to battle a physical night by the Crew, which seemed to get the majority of calls early on —Timbers forward Kenny Cooper incurred an early yellow card out of frustration over the no-calls. Despite great crosses by Darlington Nagbe and Jack Jewsbury and excellent ball control by Jorge Perlaza, the Timbers failed to score in the first half.
But Portland struck only a minute into the first half in the most familiar of ways. Jewsbury delivered a precise corner kick into the face of goal, and defender Eric Brunner, a former Crew player, managed to header the ball right of the goalie for the game’s only score.
“I texted Eric Brunner last night at 9:45 and told him a Columbus player was gonna kick his ass,” Spencer said. “There was no reply to that text.”
Brunner’s goal was the sixth of 13 goals this season to come off a set piece, and Jewsbury’s fifth assist of the season ranks him second in assists in the MLS, tied with David Beckham.
“I said to him at halftime, ‘Can you use a little bit of your own imagination,’” Spencer said.
The Crew had two great opportunities narrowly escaped by Portland. The first came in the 42nd minute off a header that was barely tapped clear by the stretching fingers of goalie Troy Perkins. That opportunity came just minutes after the Crew strangely pulled their top scorer, Emilio Renteria.
Columbus also missed a daisy-cutter off the right post in the 87th minute.
The win is sweet relief to a Timbers team that spent the evening frustrated over the officiating. Jewsbury spent nearly five minutes of the first half gesticulating over missed calls. When Perlaza was tripped on a breakaway in the 75th minute, half the Timbers looked like fallen angels with their arms spread in a plea to Jurisevic, who let play continue.
Perlaza was vindicated on a near-identical play in the 82nd minute, getting tackled two yards from the box on a breakaway. The foul earned the crew its second yellow of the day, but Spencer considered it “unlucky” that the Crew wasn’t hit with a red card and forced to play out a man down.