Timbers' new weapon: Powell on the attack
Alvas Powell flashed a wry smile.
The Timbers' right wing/back knew he should have scored his second goal of the season late in the club's 3-0 win over Philadelphia on Saturday.
"If it was in training, I would score it. It was unlucky," Powell said after Portland stretched its MLS unbeaten run to 15 games entering this week's Cascadia Cup clash with Vancouver.
The 24-year-old Jamaican could smile because his play on the right flank was the key route to the Timbers' win against Philadelphia.
Powell has had flashes of attacking promise over his five years in Portland, and has improved his defensive discipline each year since joining the team in June 2013 as an 18-year-old.
He has embraced a more advanced role — what soccer player does not enjoy attacking? — becoming a vital outlet when opposing teams crowd central areas to limit touches for Portland's playmakers.
Yes, his touch let him down on a late-match chance Saturday in front of the goal.
But his first touch was perfect on the play that led to the first penalty kick in a match that was trending toward a scoreless draw. Accelerating toward the penalty area and receiving a pass from Diego Valeri, Powell forced veteran Union defender Fabinho to foul him.
"I knew Diego was going to play that ball, so I just put my head down and ran," Powell said. "To get forward to try to help my team to score — that's the enjoyment. That's the license the coach gives me, to get forward and join the attack and make things happen."
With Sebastian Blanco suspended for the Philly match, Powell's ability to join the attack was critical.
"I think it took him a little while to be able to find the space, but once he found it I thought he had a great game," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. "Especially in the second half, he was dangerous going in behind, sometimes one against one. He created many many problems and I thought had one of his best games."
Philadelphia coach Jim Curtain agreed. He was happy with the way the Union — which rested some key players in advance of Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal match — handled Valeri and Samuel Armenteros but described Powell as the most dangerous player on the field.
Valeri has watched Powell grow into a more consistent player.
"He's an unbelievable athlete, right?" Valeri said. "You can see when he is in a race against someone he will win it every single time. The only thing you want to do is put the ball in front of him and make him run."
As his late-match chance and other examples demonstrate, Powell still can struggle to slow down the game in the attacking third. But, as his cross to Blanco a week earlier after turning his defender demonstrated, Powell's confidence is headed the right direction.
"He's growing up as a player, improving and being more calm in that final third," Valeri said. "He was very young when he started (with the Timbers). He's getting experience to know what you have to decide in the moment. He's doing it really well, and I'm sure that he will be better."
As long as Savarese employs a formation with three central defenders, Powell on the right and Zarek Valentin on the left will be expected to join the attack at times. The system lets Powell use his speed as a weapon.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Powell said. "The team is on a run. We train really hard and have fun in the games."
• The Timbers' run has equaled the club's best in the MLS era (10 wins, five draws). The 10 wins 20 games into the season is the quickest to double-digit wins — by four games — in Portland's MLS history. The Timbers are the first team in league history to put together two 15-win unbeaten runs. Portland's other 15-match run came in Caleb Porter's first season.
• Saturday's visit from Vancouver could be memorable. The Whitecaps have a special talent in 17-year-old Alphonso Davies. They won't have him for long. After this season, he moves to German power Bayern Munich, which is paying a $13.5 million transfer fee to acquire him.
Davies has five goals and 10 assists in 22 appearances this season. Three goals and two assists have come in his last two starts. If Davies is in the Whitecaps' lineup, it will present a unique challenge for a Portland defense that has been scored on only 13 times in the 15-game run — and a unique chance to watch a young player who some project as an international superstar.