PORTLAND — The return of defender Futty Danso to the lineup, and of midfielder Sal Zizzo to the list of available players gave the Timbers Army something to cheer about during pregame introductions on Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field.
What the 20,438 didn’t get to celebrate was the return of the Timbers ability to score a goal.
That the Timbers and the Columbus Crew played to a scoreless draw wasn’t a surprise, given that these are two of the least productive offenses in Major League Soccer. The result leaves the Timbers with a 2-5-2 record, and the Crew is 2-4-2.
Still, Timbers coach John Spencer saw his team’s 15 shots as evidence that the confidence and passion is resurfacing for his team.
“We played more like ourselves tonight. The tempo was high, it matched the energy in the stadium,” Spencer said. “It’s obviously not the result that we hoped for, but it’s a positive step.”
The Timbers took 15 shots and forced Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum to make six saves. But the only real dangerous thrust was a 22-yard shot by Rodney Wallace that was tipped wide by a diving Gruenebaum in the 20th minute,
“Great save,” Spencer said. “Changed the game.”
Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, playing with a mask to protect his nose that was injured a week ago in Montreal, made only one save — a terrific reaction stop of a close-range header by Josh Williams, whose chance came from the far post on a second half corner kick.
The Crew was unlucky not to score from a first-half flurry during which three different Timbers cleared the ball off the goal line. First Mike Chabala and Jack Jewsbury took touches to deny Milovan Mirosevic. On an ensuing corner kick, Diego Chara blocked away a backside shot from Crew defender Josh Williams.
That turned out to be the closest thing to a goal for either side. Which made Spencer’s lineup shuffle one of the more interesting development.
Team captain Jewsbury played right back, the first time he has been in a defensive slot since joining the Timbers. But it was his 44th appearance as a defender in MLS. In fact, Jewsbury was voted Kansas City’s top defensive player in the 2008 season.
Danso made his first appearance of the season alongside Hanyer Mosquera at center back, sending Eric Brunner to the bench. Danso missed the start of this season with a foot fracture. Frank Songo’o and Wallace started on the wings with Diego Chara and Lovel Palmer roaming the central midfield.
“I thought Rodney and Songo’o brought a lot of energy, and quality at times,” Spencer said.
The Timbers’ most dynamic attacker was Darlington Nagbe, who started at forward alongside Kris Boyd and created several near chances with runs at the defense. And Boyd did take six shots, two of them on goal.
But none of that effort produced a great chance for a goal.
“We need to get Kris Boyd better service that’s for sure,” Spencer said.
“When you’re lacking that little bit of confidence, everybody tries to take a little more time and care” to make a perfect play on the attack, Spencer said.
Portland has now gone more than three games without scoring a goal for itself. The last one was a Boyd tally in the first half at Los Angeles on April 14.
Still, Spencer said Saturday’s performance was a positive step.
“We gave the fans something to cheer about tonight,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t the three points (win), I felt that we were back to our old selves and that’s going to give us confidence.”