After confidence-boosting wins to reach the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, the Portland Timbers look to begin taking advantage of their home-heavy schedule the rest of the season starting with Saturday night's contest versus the Houston Dynamo.
Though they are last in the Western Conference on 14 points, the Timbers (4-7-2) survived their season-opening 12-match odyssey across MLS as Providence Park was being renovated to expand seating. The trip started disastrously with a draw and five defeats, but Giovanni Savarese's team eventually found its footing and took 13 points from the final six contests and entered the break just five points out of the seventh and final playoff spot.
Portland - which will play 16 of its final 21 matches at home - did finally begin its home slate with a 3-2 loss to West leaders LAFC on June 1, but that long-awaited first home win came Wednesday night with a 4-0 romp over a largely second-choice Los Angeles Galaxy side in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open Cup.
The Timbers broke open the game with three goals late in the first half, capped by Sebastian Blanco's golazo on 37 minutes, a left-footed blast from 26 yards into the upper right corner of the net. Brian Fernandez continued making an impact on the offense since his arrival, with the Designated Player netting his seventh goal in five matches in all contests since joining Portland and keeping Timber Joey busy Wednesday night.
"It felt very good to get the first win in the new stadium," Savarese told the club's official website after Portland's first shutout in any competition this year. "It felt very good to not concede any goals. It felt very good that we found the goals in the right moments, and that everybody competed in the best possible way.
"Even though we can continue to improve - because we have room in which we can be better - overall, it was a very good performance."
Houston's bid to repeat as U.S. Open Cup champions came to an end with its 3-2 home loss to Minnesota United on Tuesday night in the round of 16. Ronaldo Pena and Marlon Hairston staked the Dynamo (7-3-3) to a 2-0 lead in the first half, but Houston conceded all three goals in the final 24 minutes as goalkeeper Michael Nelson and defender Sam Junqua made their debuts.
"It was two different games," Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera told the Houston Chronicle. "The second half we were horrible. We didn't show personality, we didn't show commitment."
Houston played without all three primary players in its offensive attack as Mauro Manotas was missing due to paperwork issues in his native Colombia, Albert Elis is playing for Honduras in the Gold Cup, and Memo Rodriguez was sidelined with an undisclosed injury that could put his spot in the starting XI for this match in jeopardy. Defender Adam Lundqvist could also be a doubt for this match due to visa issues in his native Sweden.
Manotas, Elis, and Rodriguez have accounted for 16 of Houston's 21 goals in league play, while Lundqvist anchors a back line that has shipped 14 goals - the third-fewest in MLS.
Portland scraped out a 1-1 draw in Houston on May 15 as Fernandez scored his first MLS goal in the 77th minute, just 12 minutes after being introduced in his Timbers debut. Elis set up Manotas' goal in the 40th minute that opened the scoring.
Portland is 5-1-1 in its last seven home matches versus Houston.
Updated June 20, 2019