Walking on Sunshine and Sunflowers
A special night and a special moment, and with the stars in alignment for a momentous occasion, the Timbers were able to pull through in truly dramatic fashion defeating Puerto Rico 1-0 Thursday evening. On a night which marked the last soccer game to be played at PGE Park (before renovations begin), the franchise was able to celebrate its 1 millionth fan in attendance since 2001. The sellout crowd of 15,418, the team’s 5th sellout of the year, witnessed an important and memorable moment in Timber’s history. An emotional evening for players, coaches, and fans alike; it exemplified why Portland has earned the moniker of Soccer City USA. Simply put, you can’t fake moments like this.
“It was great. The support has been amazing all year, especially tonight.” Said forward Doug DeMartin. “Our fans are just awesome and to come out and get a win and to do it late like that with a lot of drama. It’s a lot of fun.”
In the 80th minute, fate had set the stage. With the North End leading the way, fans across the stadium began to hold sunflowers up in the air, a gesture that not only commemorated the final home match, but also honored one of the most significant and special moments in Timbers folklore, the Sunshine Goal.
With the stadium a sea of sunflowers and fans singing “You are my Sunshine” in unison, the tension and intensity of the match began to build as the score was knotted at 0-0. Then in the 83rd minute, team captain Ian Joy would send a searching long ball over Puerto Rico’s backline, finding a streaking DeMartin in the offensive third. DeMartin would shake past his defender, getting into the box before sending a cross through traffic which found a leaping Ryan Pore, who headed the ball into the back of the net for what would prove to be the game-winning goal. The score is Pore’s 15th of season and he currently leads the league in goals and total points.
“Ian played me a good through ball so I could get behind (the defense).” Said DeMartin. “And I got their center-back where we wanted towards the endline and I just tried to get across (the box) and put the ball in a dangerous position. And Ryan does such a great job of getting himself into (threatening positions) and finishing those balls.”
“I just threw my body at it.” Said Pore with a grin on his face. “I’m still not exactly sure what I hit it with – my head, my arm, my foot, whatever it was thankfully it went into the back of the net.”
After the goal, Pore sprinted towards the west end of the field, diving and tumbling into the corner flag before being toppled by his teammates.
“My mind was going everywhere (after the goal),” Said Pore about the moment, a smile still pasted across his face. “I didn’t know what to do, where to go, I just ran. But I’m so overjoyed that we were able to get 3pts tonight, especially in front of these fans.”
A night filled with special occasions, the match also saw 7-year Timber veteran Scot Thompson make his final appearance at PGE Park. Thompson checked into the game early in the 1st half after defender Steve Purdy collided with a Puerto Rico player and was forced to leave the game due to blurred vision. Thompson would play an inspired match, making his presence felt all over the field Thursday evening, and was a strong contributing factor in the Timber’s victory. The Timbers 2010 Community Play of the Year Award was also given to Thompson upon the conclusion of the match.
“It was pretty emotional.” Reflected Thompson. “With this many people here, and all the sunflowers were great. It’s kind of an end of an era, but (overall) it was just a very, very happy moment.”
The 4-3-3 and More
For the 3rd match in a row, Portland primarily operated out of a 4-3-3 system, moving Pore upfront on the wing and using two attacking-midfielders with a defensive stopper behind them protecting the middle. The Timbers have struggled to find consistent offense throughout the season, but the new formation seems to help the team create better passing angles and find space.
“It puts more responsibility on our wide players to move forward,” said Coach Gavin Wilkinson. “We’re trying to pressure a little more and cause more problems for the opponent.”
“It plays to our strengths.” said DeMartin. “Playing out wide gives me a little more room to play, more time and space, so it’s easier to get involved. And with Bright being so strong up front, he’s able to split their two center-backs, so it creates a lot of problems for teams.”
Added Pore, “We’re a little more dangerous in the 4-3-3 and it really creates a tough dynamic for the defense to defend.”
Portland dominated most of the 90 minutes of play, not only controlling possession, but keeping Puerto Rico out of the defensive third and only allowing them 4 shots on the entire night. Keeper Steve Cronin, who has been solid all year, recorded his 10th shutout of the season and Portland’s backline was stingy, smart, and aggressive.
“The mentality of the team was extremely good,” Said Coach Wilkinson. “We dominated and dictated the tempo of play, winning possession, overall it was a great performance and it showed professionalism and maturity by our whole squad.”
A physical and ugly match at times, 6th place Puerto Rico didn’t go down without a fight. Opening the 2nd half, the Timbers began to slow down slightly (perhaps the only period of the match which they didn’t completely control) and Coach Wilkinson made some substitutions to try and regain momentum.
“We were fatiguing a little bit and as we made the changes,” said Wilkinson, “Then we began take over and dominate the game again.”
“It shows the mentality of this team, to keep fighting through adversity,” said Pore. “And the fan’s energy all night was really what kept us going.”
Wilkinson summed up the team’s effort, “We gave as good as we got.”
With the win the Timbers (11-7-8, 41pts) have furthered solidified their spot in the league standings are only 5pts behind Austin, who is currently 2nd in the USL division. Portland is now riding a 6 game unbeaten streak and will take a good dose of positive momentum with them as they head out on a difficult 4 game road trip to finish out the season.
“We still need to get points if we wanna put ourselves in a good position for the playoffs.” Said DeMartin. “We’re on a good roll, so we need to focus on keeping that going.”
The team will get a week off before heading down to Carolina to start their tough road schedule. The Timbers will then play return matches against Puerto Rico and Baltimore (teams they beat at home this week) before closing out the season against league rivals Vancouver.
“Guys are looking forward to it.” Said Pore. “The confidence is high in the locker room and our form is going the right way heading into the playoffs.”
“It’s been ten years of an amazing development of a soccer organization that continues to move forward.” said Wilkinson. “And for me, I’m just delighted to be a part of it.”
“The last moment here, it’s one we’ll always remember.” Said Savage. “We’ve had a lot of good moments here with the fans, but it’s always the last ones that really stay forever.”
* Photos provided by Allison Andrews @ the Timber Mill
Posted by Kevin