By JUSTIN FERGUSON
With the league’s top team coming into town and a national television audience watching, the Portland Timbers knew that Saturday’s match was a perfect opportunity to show everyone that they are now a serious contender in the Western Conference.
And when the final whistle sounded, the Timbers and their fans celebrated a hard-fought victory and the survival of two outstanding streaks.
Portland extended its impressive home shutout streak to 450 minutes and its overall unbeaten streak to 13 matches with a 1-0 win over league leaders FC Dallas at JELD-WEN Field on a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon.
Darlington Nagbe was the offensive hero for a Timbers offense that had a hard time getting past Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez. The Peruvian international matched opposite number Donovan Ricketts with seven saves, but he could do nothing about Nagbe’s 52nd-minute wonder goal.
The 23-year-old winger, who has had some of his best matches against FC Dallas, picked up a pass from Kalif Alhassan just inside the box. Nagbe quickly turned and tucked an unstoppable shot perfectly into the far corner of Fernandez’s net for the eventual match-winner.
Nagbe’s goal came after a opening 45 minutes filled with wide open offensive action. The visitors came close to breaking the deadlock deep into first half stoppage time, but Jackson’s vicious shot was stopped by a diving Ricketts.
The great play from the returning Jamaican international was preceded by one of multiple Save of the Year candidates from Fernandez. After a free header from a set piece routine was cleared off his line, Fernandez somehow kept out Diego Chara’s follow-up effort with an incredible diving stop.
Despite falling behind early in the second half, the league leaders continued to create chances on goal.
The FCD offense was without goalscorers Blas Perez and Kenny Cooper, who had to leave Portland just before the match to attend to a family emergency. The striker crisis continued for head coach Schellas Hyndman just eight minutes into the match when starter Eric Hassli was forced to come off with an injury.
Yet Dallas, who had not been shutout in league play before Saturday’s match, managed to out-shoot their hosts. Jackson seemed destined to grab an equalizer after forcing a Will Johnson turnover in the 72nd minute, but his shot whistled over the crossbar.
Ricketts made his seventh and final save of the match with 10 minutes remaining in stoppage time, keeping out a Zach Loyd effort. However, the goalkeeper’s most important play in preserving the shutout came in stoppage time. Ricketts charged and cut off an attempted through ball from Fabian Castillo that would have given Dallas an easy equalizer.
Portland (6-1-8) has a quick turnaround following this important win over the Western Conference leaders—the Timbers travel to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy on Wednesday night. Dallas (8-3-4) will return home to face Sporting Kansas City next Saturday.
Here are the match highlights: