It's up to 14 games now, spanning three months, 26 points and uncharted miles of elevation in Major League Soccer's hierarchy. But step down into the Portland Timbers' locker room, and the word isn't exactly springing from everyone's lips.
"I haven't heard one guy talk about the streak," said Club Cap'n Jack Jewsbury last week, after Portland knocked off table-topping FC Dallas in an afternoon thriller here.
Chainsaw-proximity aside, the Timbers may be the only ones not buzzing aloud.
PTFC enters this afternoon's tilt with Colorado a win away from reaching the top of the Western Conference standings. They've already summited a number of MLS Power Rankings, and even fantasy nerds are beginning to take notice of the Rose City's realness.
"This group has something special," Jewsbury said. "And I've been in a locker rooms in the course of my career."
As I wrote about in this week's print edition, there's also a certain level of coolly collected calmness that starts at the top. Portland's turnaround under first-year coach Caleb Porter has been nothing short of a culture change. A club that was repeatedly kicked in the gut around this time last year has been reformed into a deep, versatile, experienced and resilient bunch that's about as well-rounded as it gets, leading the league in goals while earning shutouts in four of six matches. While most point to the Timbers' attack (Porterball! Whatever that is!), Porter says his fellas are becoming a "very good" defensive team, to boot. Andrew Jean-Baptiste and newly acquired Pa Modou Kah are playing beyond their time together after being thrust into starting roles earlier this week. Both are big, athletic and physical to be certain, but Jean-Baptiste says their success comes more from having "no worries" about whoever slides in.
“We just all know how to play with each other, no matter who it is,” Jean-Baptiste said earlier this week. “It’s crazy how it works, we have so many guys going in and out on the backline and we still manage to put up shutouts. It’s impressive, not many teams can do that."
Can they do it again? We have grey skies over Goose Hollow, but the top of the points table is still within sight. So click past the jump and follow along, as I deftly describe the action, on and off the pitch.
Colorado (5-6-5, 20 pts) starters: Clinton Irwin in goal. Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, German Mera and Chris Klute on defense. Hendry Thomas, Nathan Sturgis and Dillon Powers at midfield. Atiba Harris, Nick LaBrocca and Deshorn Brown up front.
In the 18: Steward Ceus, Anthony Wallace, Brenton Griffiths, Tony Cascio, Jaime Castrillon, Kevin Harbottle, Edson Buddle. One notable absence is defender Brian Mullan, who apparently is being held out for this turf-pitched match.
Portland (6-1-9, 27 pts) starters: Donovan Ricketts in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah and Ryan Miller on the back line. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe at midfield. Frederic Piquionne and Rodney Wallace up front.
Rounding out the 18: Milos Kocic, Futty Danso, Kalif Alhassan, Ben Zemanski, Sal Zizzo, Ryan Johnson, Jose Valencia.
While Portland has been converting its most grueling stretch of the season into a turbo-boost of momentum, the Rapids have stalled a bit lately. They've dropped two straight after a promising 5-1-2 stretch and are still dealing with the emotional trade of team stalwart Pablo Mastroeni.
The Timbers drew with the Rapids 2-2 earlier this season in Denver, but Rapids are playing their third match in nine days and are considering resting players amid concerns about a defense that's yielded four goals in its last two matches. What might help is the return of coach Oscar Pareja, along with leading scorer Atiba Harris and Hendry Thomas, who are all back from one-game suspensions.
The Timbers will be without defender Michael Harrington, but will have the services of budding star Rodney Wallace, away four MLS matches to ride the pine for the Costa Rican national team.
Big cheers for Wallace, which isn't a surprise. Fans are undoubtedly stoked for his return, especially since he appeared to be in top form heading into his international break. How well he can keep that going after not playing with his national team will be something to watch.
Looks like this one will have a 4:20ish start. That's national TV coverage for ya. According to the PA, today's match is "brought to you by TriMet." Is that why we're 20 minutes late? (BOOOOOM!)
Both teams are sporting third kits. Timbers in their Rose City Reds and Colorado in its very fresh state-flag-themed kit. Nice.
FIRST HALF! And away we go...Timbers headed toward their Army.
1st minute—Brown with the first shot of the match and Ricketts is forced to dive to his left after a Kah deflection. Not sure if that would've been on-frame, but Ricketts is certainly awake.
2nd—Another scary moment for Portland as Thomas heads one forward and finds Brown again close to the goal. Ricketts cuts him off and will have a goal kick. Again, nothing on frame, but nervous moments.
3rd—Brown gets past Kah again and nearly gets to it before Ricketts comes out and cleans things up. Shaky start for the Timbers thus far as Brown is giving the back line all sorts of trouble.
5th—After PIquionne gets ahead and back-heels one back to Nagbe, Portland plays it back and Johnson whiffs on a shot from distance. Colorado is taking the match to Portland so far—they're clearly the aggressor in the opening minutes.
7th—Powers does well to get past AJ-B and fire a shot from 25 yards, but it's just wide. Ricketts dove hard to his left for it, but it's over line for a goal kick. Everything going the Rapids' way early here.
9th—Another shot from distance from Brown, but it's wide left. And here comes the rain. Will it wake up the Timbers?
11th—Powers with another shot from 25 yards, but he's off the side of his foot. Clearly, the directive heading into tonight was to be aggressive and make Ricketts work, and the Rapids are doing just that.
12th—TIMBERS GOAL! PIQUIONNE! Timbers hurry up on a restart and catch the Rapids off guard. Johnson with short pass ahead to Wallace, who crosses to Piquionne. He absolutely smashes a header off the crossbar that drops straight onto the turf and over the line for Piquionne's first MLS goal. Timbers lead, 1-0. Just when you thought the Rapids were in control, jabbing away at the Timbers' D, Portland catches Colorado with a stunning left hook to the chin.
16th—Brown with a shot at the top of the box, but it's wide left. Colorado still pressing pretty well here, continuing to be the aggressor despite the early deficit.
18th—Valeri brings the crowd up a bit with a nice turn deep in the Northeast corner, but his cross is controlled by Colorado.
21st—Timbers controlling the ball a bit more now, trying to slow things down a bit. Keep-away in full effect.
22nd—After much lulling, Johnson forges ahead down the middle and finds Wallace at the top of the box. He fires one, but it's well over the bar. Good chance there for the Timbers, and RodWall undoubtedly wishes he could have that one again.
24th—Valeri with some sickness at midfield. Volleys to himself, kicks it back-footed ahead to Nagbe, and rushes ahead to earn a throw-in. He can't help but smile after that, and neither can much of Timbers Army.
27th—Thomas fouled at midfield by Jewsbury. Colorado pushing everyone forward. Thomas sends it into the box and it bounds to the other side after a Thomas header. Powers gets close, but Wallace kicks it over the line for a Colorado corner.
28th—Powers with the corner and Piquionne heads it away. Timbers on the counter for the moment, then pull it back. More keep-away.
30th—A series of one-touch passes and Nagbe springs ahead. He looks to Piquionne running up the middle, but his cross is knocked over the line. First corner for Portland and Johnson knocks it over the pack to the far post. Valeri called for a foul after a knock on Brown.
33rd—Miller with a good ball ahead to Valeri on a diagonal run, but Wynne is there to muscle him off the ball. Goal kick for Colorado.
34th—Chara steals one in the attacking third from Sturgis, but the latter gets it right back. Nice recovery there from the Colorado midfielder.
36th—Wallace gets past Wynn and dribbles ahead to the top of the box, but his left-footed shot is mis-struck and curls well right of the goal. Goal kick Rapids.
37th—Valeri gets his foot a little too high and is called for a foul on Thomas. Goal kick comes in and after a few bounces, the counter is on. Chara plays ahead to Nagbe, but Wynne runs him down. Great burst of speed there from Wynne.
40th—Colorado with a long throw into the box and Jewsbury heads it down. Ricketts is there to grab it.
41st—Rapids regain possession and Harris gets around Chara and near the top of the box. He shoots, but it's high and wide left.
43rd—Piquionne is taken down outside the box and on the line, but no call. There was certainly contact, but it looked the ball was well over the line when it happened. On the kick, Jewsbury is called for a foul on a 50-50 ball.
45th—TIMBERS GOAL! IT'S JOHNSON! Ricketts' goal kick is headed forward by Piquionne, who goes down in a collision with Moore. The ball finds Wallace, who plays one back to Will Johnson in stride. The captain dribbles right through traffic and fires a screamer past Irwin. Huge goal there to put Colorado in a bigger hole just before halftime. Timbers up 2-0 and we'll one one minute of stoppage.
HALFTIME! Timbers lead, 2-0. Colorado was the aggressor in the early going, but Portland has answered with a pair of stunners. If giving up a goal right after a dominant stretch wasn't bad enough, the Rapids let another one go past in the waning moments of the half. They'll need to respond in a major way to have any hope of salvaging a point from this one.
SOME STATS: Timbers have a small edge in possession (51.6%). Colorado out-shot Portland 7-4 and won 54% of the duels.
SECOND HALF! We're back at it. Timbers dribbling toward the south end.
46th—Similar start as the first half. LaBrocca plays one ahead to Brown, who fires one from 35 yards. It's wide, but Kah is holding his face and taking a knee at the top of the box.
47th—Valeri almost does something ridiculous. Ball goes ahead to him and he controls it, spins a full 360 and fires. But it slides just right. Holy cow, that would've been a crazy goal. Pretty standard stuff for the Argentinian, especially tonight. He has tremendous field awareness.
48th—Piquionne walking very gingerly and wincing in pain. He's holding his shin, I believe and trying to run the pain out.
50th—Free kick Colorado and Powers drives it in. Piquionne heads it away and Colorado controls. Ball is sent back in and Ricketts soars to pick it out of the air while Mera closes.
52nd—LaBrocca draws a corner and sends it out-swinging right in front, but it's headed over the bar. Goal kick Timbers.
55th—Miller with a giveaway then clear foul just inside midfield. Colorado will play it short and work it forward, but Wallace steals it just as it goes into the box to clear. Ball goes forward to Piquionne, but he's called for a foul. The ref comes over and blows his whistle right in Piquionne's ear, and he doesn't like that very much.
56th—Great chance for the Rapids as Harris sends one far-post to Brown, who swings a right-footer that goes wide left. Miller gave Harris a bit too much space and the Timbers almost pay for it there.
58th—Another great chance as Brown works past Miller and finds LaBrocca right in front. He fires one past Ricketts and on-frame, but Jewsbury is there to make the save. That easily could've been 2-1 there.
59th—Timbers make their first sub. It'll be Ryan Johnson coming on for Piquionne. Rapids also go to their bench. They bring on Anthony Wallace for Klute.
63rd—Another Colorado sub. Castrillon on for LaBrocca.
66th—Valeri fouled at midfield and takes the free kick short. Colorado regains possession as the action slows down a bit and the sun peeks through the clouds.
69th—Lots of possession leads to Wallace touching one ahead to a sprinting Will Johnson. He touches it ahead and couple times, then boots one forward under no pressure. Oops. Sun is really shining now, and there's a visible rainbow that appears to end directly in 107. Stay gold, Timbers Army.
72nd—Wynne with a dangerous cross right the middle, but AJ-B is there to head it high before Nagbe boots it backward over his head.
73rd—Timbers with another sub. It'll be Zemanski for Nagbe.
75th—Will Johnson levels Moor and it'll be a free kick for Colorado. Big-time collision there, but both players are on their feet—the former skipping around in disbelief at the call.
77th—Wallace beats two men then gets it back to Valeri. He boots it back to a Miller, whose cross is poor but effective. It bounds off a Rapids defender and it'll be a corner for Portland. It comes in it bounded ahead to Kah, who plays it forward to Johnson. He taps it into the net, but Kah was called offside.
78th—Rapids sub. Cascio on for Thomas.
80th—Zemanski goes wide to Valeri, who nutmegs Wallace, but Moor does well to keep it from Zemanski. Portland looking for another one here.
81st—Long ball played ahead for Harris and he and Kah give chase. Just before it goes over end line, Harris shoves Kah to the ground. It'll be a foul and free kick for Portland.
82nd—Harris has one from just outside on the box on a half-volley. Caught it well, but it's over the bar. Decent chance there.
83rd—Another shot from the top of the box, this time for Sturgis. It's no problem for Ricketts, who grabs it two-handed.
84th—One more sub for Portland, and it's Alhassan for Valeri. On the restart, we have another TIMBERS GOAL! RYAN JOHNSON from right in front! And that'll do it. Zemanski with a steal inside of midfield and finds Wallace streaking down the side. He one-touches it ahead to Ryan Johnson, who finishes with ease. Timbers lead 3-0 behind three assists from Wallace. Ballgame.
87th—Rapids not conceding. Brown gets to the top of the box but it's immediately deflected away. Timbers clear, but Colorado will maintain possession.
88th—Sturgis with a free kick that Kah heads over the line. Corner kick coming.
89th—Corner is sent in and Sturgis gets a free header on it from 10 yards out, but it'll go wide right.
Two minutes of stoppage...Anthony Wallace sends one to the top of the box for Thomas, but his header is popped up and over the line. Behind the goal, team owner Merritt Paulson fields it...Will Johnson runs ahead and into the corner, only to be surrounded by three Rapids. He's called for a foul and looks pissed. Talk about keeping your head in the game 'til the bitter end.
FULL TIME: Timbers win 3-0. Portland gets its 15th straight result and now sits tied with Salt Lake at the top of the table. Third straight clean sheet, and now 570 minutes of play since an MLS team has scored at The Jelly. Wait, seriously?
"You kind of shocked me with that stat," said defender Ryan Miller when I mentioned the impressive stretch for Portland's defense. "I don't think we even really knew. It's important to keep a clean sheet. They don't score, they can't win."
Indeed. And scrawled across the whiteboard in the locker room was a simple, related message:
"NOW IS THE TIME...
30 points TODAY!"
The "3" was emphasized pregame, but afterward, Porter insisted 30 points was just the start.
"What's scary about this team is we're just scratching the surface—we can be better," Porter said in his postgame presser. "I looked in their eyes today after the game and it's not like they're happy. It looks like they expected it."
Capt. Will Johnson said the team will undoubtedly stay grounded, a slow start the season ensured that.
"It's important to remember, after four games, we had three points," Johnson said. "We haven't forgotten that. Those stumbles out the gate really help us now. We know we can come back, we can hold leads and we also know teams can come back against us."
The Timbers will need to stay hungry, said Ryan Johnson, who credits Porter with keeping the team on an even keel.
"[Porter] wants to see more out of us all the time," Ryan Johnson said. "I think that's what just keeps pushing us higher and higher. He's never complacent."
Wallace, who returned to notch three assists, said it simply feels good to be part of a winning team.
"We have bunch of players that make it easy for you to go out there and play a good game," he said. "Everybody on the team is playing on cue right now and feed off each other."
Porter, who insisted he's no "miracle worker," said credit could certainly be doled out after 34 games. But not now. Instead, he'll focus on getting the most out of a club that continues to surprise.
"We've only been together six months," Porter said. "We still have a lot left in the tank. I'm going to keep pushing these guys, and they know that."
PORTER'S FULL POSTGAME PRESSER:
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