PORTLAND – It figured that the Portland Timbers first shutout of 2016 came on a night they had to play half a match with 10 players – in a game where they managed only two shots and didn’t take any of those in the final 85 minutes of action.
Center back Liam Ridgewell got the goal and goalkeeper Jake Gleeson produced a few more reaction saves, but the heroes of Wednesday’s 1-0 win over San Jose included midfielder Ned Grabavoy and outside backs Taylor Peay and Zarek Valentin.
Peay, who has spent most of the season playing for Timbers 2, started at right back. Valentin, who has been filling in for Alvas Powell at right back, shifted to the left. Grabavoy stepped in on the left side of midfield in place of Darlington Nagbe, who is with the United States national team.
Porter, who has known the 32-year-old Grabavoy since Porter was an assistant coach at Indiana and Grabavoy was playing for the Hoosiers, said Grabavoy’s ability to cut inside from the wing, to win possession and keep possession, and his soccer IQ all made him a good fit against an athletic San Jose team.
Especially in the second half, with the Timbers defending deep in two blocks of four players, Grabavoy proved to be a vital safety-valve who relieved pressure by dribbling out of tight spots. He also drew six of the 20 fouls called against San Jose.
Valentin, who admits to being more comfortable at right back than left, said having Grabavoy in front of him was a huge asset.
“Ned is somebody who always wants the ball,” Valentin said. “Thankfully, I get to play with somebody who I can give the ball in a tough spot and Ned will just scoot out of it, he’ll get fouled and we can take a break.”
Nat Borchers praised the play of both Valentin and Peay.
“I thought both outside backs were fantastic on the night, as well as our wingers to come back and help,” Borchers said. “To be honest, we didn’t have a lot to do in the center of the park towards the end of the game because they were locking down the crosses.”
Porter said Grabavoy and Peay had each looked sharp in training, which led to their starting assignments. Lucas Melano did not start, but replaced Diego Valeri in the 63rd minute. Porter said that he did not want Valeri to defend on the right wing for an entire half, and that Melano’s speed gave the Timbers more of an attacking threat.
In the 83rd minute, Jack Jewsbury took over on the right and Melano shifted up top as Fanendo Adi was subbed off.
The Timbers goal was their first this season from set-piece service — other than a direct free kick. Ridgewell – who was able to break out is Ridgy Roll cenebration for the first time this seasona – said it was a log time coming.
“We work on it day in, day out,” Ridegwell said of set-piece execution. “It felt great. “
Ridgewell’s goal was the Timbers only shot on target. Midfielder Diego Chara took a shot that was blocked in the eighth minute. That was the extent of the Timbers attack. Portland did not attempt a shot at all for the final 85 minutes of game action.
“It was definitely fitting that we got the shutout with a man down, and we also get the game-winner from Ridgy,” Borchers said. “Defensively we can be proud of our performance.”