It has been 247 plus minutes of soccer since a Timber put the ball into the back of the net. If the match against Sporting KC represented a step forward, the Timbers fell off a cliff in Montreal.
Promising the same lineup he played against Kansas City, John Spencer got exactly what he bargained for – disaster.
The usually meek Impact were on their front foot from the opening whistle. In the 14th minute, Justin Mapp beat Steve Purdy and Darlington Nagbe to the byline before sending the ball to Davy Arnaud at the top of the six yard box. Arnaud’s skied his tap-in effort over the bar, however, sparing the Timbers an early concession.
For the most part the first half continued to be one-way traffic, as Montreal created a series of half chances past a Timbers defense that was competent, but far from certain.
The 38th minute brought Portland’s only legitimate chance of the first half, as a long run from the left wing through the middle of the field by Nagbe set up Jack Jewsbury at the right corner of the box. Jewsbury’s first time effort with the wrong foot, however, was saved in the middle of the goal by Impact keeper Donovan Ricketts.
Ultimately, the Timbers were lucky to escape into halftime level. They came out of the locker room to more of the same. Montreal reestablished their control over the run of play in the first fifteen minutes of the second half; controlling the ball, and keeping the Timbers from any bona fide chances.
In the 61st minute, however, the Timbers looked like they might be poised to turn the tide. After the ineffective Jorge Perlaza was lifted in favor of Franck Songo’o – moving Nagbe up front – Portland briefly looked like the more dangerous side on the pitch. Very briefly.
In the 63rd minute, Troy Perkins – and the Timbers’ chances – took a kick to the face. Sanna Nyassi outran Hanyer Mosquera to a long ball, but Troy Perkins arrived just in time to gather the ball at the top of the box. He also arrived just in time to be struck in the face by Nyassi’s raised studs.
With Perkins out of the match, the Timbers were forced to turn to rookie Joe Bendik at keeper. His defense wouldn’t do him any favors.
After Bendik saved a corner with his face – a bit of a theme for Portland keepers on Saturday – a Matteo Ferrari goal off the second ball was called off for offside.
Three minutes later, Portland’s luck would run out. After former Portland Pilot Collen Warner struck a ball from 10 yards out, newly-signed left back Steven Smith slid to block the ball. The ball hit his leg, and bounced up and struck his left arm. The referee awarded a penalty, which Bernardo Corradi put away.
Portland made a couple half hearted efforts to equalize, but never seriously threatened to grind out a point. What little hope persisted was extinguished in the 84th minute. After Corradi took a goal kick from Ricketts, he found Arnaud on the left wing. Arnaud skidded a ball across the top of the six, under an outstretched Bendik, to an unmarked Sinisa Ubiparipovic who tapped the ball home.
The script was all too familiar. Two goals conceded after the 75th minute for the third time this season. That would be a bad statistic if it were written in a season recap in November. It’s April – although it’s feeling a little bit like Groundhog Day.
- The handball call was unfortunate, but ultimately not incorrect. Generally, a handball in the box shouldn’t be awarded if it was purely incidental and did not affect the play. To be sure, Smith didn’t intend to handle the ball, but his arm dramatically changed the course of the play – likely to the Timbers benefit. Certainly worse handballs in the box have gone uncalled – indeed, some against the Timbers – but in the end the play was unfortunate, not unjust.
- The Timbers’ offensive impotence is no coincidence. Portland’s tactical shift against the Wiz was widely and correctly lauded as a cause of the Timbers’ upset victory. If it goes on for much longer, it will be the cause of the Timbers undoing. By taking Darlington Nagbe and, to a lesser extent, Diego Chara out of the center of the field, John Spencer has neutered the Timbers attack that scored six goals in its first four matches. While the combination of Jack Jewsbury and Lovel Palmer in the center of the pitch has marginally improved the defense, it leaves the Timbers attack completely devoid of ideas, and sets Kris Boyd on an island. The result is an offense that leaves a mistake-prone defense no room for error. In other words, near-certain failure.
- The pitch may have been poor, but the Timbers would have lost this game if it were played at Wembley. Not worth talking about.
Troy Perkins, 5.5 – Was fine until he got kicked in the face. Made a nice save on a Felipe strike from distance, but was otherwise untested by some wasteful finishing by Montreal.
Steven Smith, 5 – Had an up and down debut. Had some decent moments in defense – ironically including the play that led to the unlucky handball – and showed some quality on set pieces. Still, looked a step slow and got beat a couple times. The early verdict is that he’s a modest improvement over Chabala and Wallace.
Eric Brunner, 6 – After a little bit of a slow start to the season, Brunner is showing what made him one of the most underrated defenders in the league last year. It’s just hard not to feel bad for he and Mosco, as they’re repeatedly finding themselves having to clean up the fullbacks’ messes.
Hanyer Mosquera, 5.5 – Didn’t have quite the day Brunner had in the middle, but was still plenty effective. Everything that Montreal created came off a breakdown on the wing or a strike from distance. That’s indicative of some decent central defending.
Steve Purdy, 3.5 – His short-lived performance was pretty poor. Not only did he fail to bottle up Mapp, but he looks downright dodgy on the ball. Multiple times in the past three games he has received the ball and been absolutely deer in the headlights. Was the Lovel Palmer era worse than this? I immediately regret asking that question.
Lovel Palmer, 5 – Had moments on Saturday when he was the Timbers’ most composed and effective player in the center of the field. Would have received a higher score but for his partial culpability on the second concession. That was classic Lovel; a very, very casual attempt to mark an attacker leading to an easy goal.
Diego Chara, 4.5 – Again, pretty good defensively. The Timbers don’t have anybody better – and there aren’t that many people in the League better – than Diego at winning possession back in the midfield. That said, Diego was almost completely ineffective going forward.
Jack Jewsbury, 3 – I was one of the last holdouts that thought Jack should stay in the XI. I would happily be wrong about this, but it looks like he’s done.
Darlington Nagbe, 6 – Got isolated on the wing at times, but when he was able to get central Darlington was pretty good. Nagbe was the Timbers’ most dangerous player on Saturday by miles.
Jorge Perlaza, 3 – Ineffective. Hard to justify his presence in the XI over Songo’o or Alexander.
Kris Boyd, 3.5 – Not entirely his fault, but he was also ineffective. When Boyd is having to consistently come deep into the midfield to receive the ball, you’re in trouble.
Freddie Braun, 3.5 – Simply in over his head defensively. He does provide much more going forward than Purdy or Palmer, although that’s not the highest standard in the world.
Franck Songo’o, 4.5 – Looked decent on the ball, but struggled to link up with his teammates. To be honest, he looks like a guy that struggles coming off the bench. At this point, I would like to see Franck in the XI. He needs more time on the field to develop chemistry in the attack. I’m not sure it’s going to work, but if moving Lovel Palmer into the midfield was worth a try, this certainly is, too.
Joe Bendik, 4 – Absolutely impossible situation for the youngster. Should have smothered the cross on the second concession, but was otherwise okay.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 0, Impact 0.
Actual Result: Impact 2, Timbers 0.
Onward, Rose City.