After a gutless loss in Colorado on Saturday, Portland came home needing to find its heart to beat the best team in the land on Tuesday. Luckily, the boys in green have rarely struggled to find heart at home, and Tuesday was no exeception.
The same Timbers team that would have struggled to get a point from a USL road match on Saturday had no problem giving the Quakes everything they could handle at Jeld-Wen Field. With the team’s two best players suspended, Portland got big contributions from unusual places to pull out a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.
Nobody stepped up more than Franck Songo’o. In the seventh minute, Songo’o picked the ball up thirty yards from goal, dribbled through the Quakes defense, and unleashed a shot that sailed just wide of the far post.
Just eight minutes later, Songo’o’s cross would skip off Victor Bernardez and land for Eirc Alexander at the top of the box. Alexander cut the ball back and pulled a shot past Quakes keeper David Bingham, only to be turned away by the near post.
In the 28th minute, the Timbers defense would make one of its few messes on the day. After gaps in the defense allowed Justin Morrow to play Rafael Baca into the box, Baca’s shot was deflected by Troy Perkins. Alan Gordon tried to poke at the airborne rebound, but ultimately it fell to Shea Salinas at the far post. That far post, however, was well covered by Steven Smith, who cleared the danger.
After the ensuing corner, Songo’o undressed Baca on San Jose’s left wing and laid the ball off for Alexander to get out on the break. Alexander returned the ball to Songo’o on the right wing as he crossed midfield. All the while, Danny Mwanga was making a massive run toward the box. At the top of the area, the hometown boy hesitated for a moment, causing Steve Beitashour to slow with him. Just as Songo’o lined up his cross, Mwanga hit the gas again, crossing up Beitashour and directing Songo’o’s near post cross into the net first time.
Absolutely picture perfect from the Timbers. A textbook counterattack leading to a well-deserved goal.
Portland almost had another before the smoke cleared. Just as he had done ten days before, David Horst – despite being football-tackled from behind – got himself on the end of a Songo’o corner. This time, however, Baca had his near post covered and cleared the ball off the line.
After dominating the first half, the Timbers came out in the second half looking for another goal. After Khari Stephenson and Lovel Palmer traded on-frame shots from distance, Songo’o got loose on the right wing again and picked Mwanga out in the box. Mwanga’s touch this time was denied by the bar, although the linesman had incorrectly flagged Danny for offside in any event.
There would be no salvation from the linesman or the bar three minutes later, however, as Songo’o – who else – sent a dangerous set piece in from just shy of the center circle. Bingham indecisively came out to collect the ball, but after a collision with Futty, the ball squirted to Jack Jewsbury who facilitated its nestling into the back of the net.
San Jose wasn’t going away, however. Sixty-three minutes in, Alan Gordon laid the ball off for the newly introduced Steven Lenhart. Lenhart had nothing but net to look at from seven yards out, but managed to find a way to send the ball wide.
In the 74th minute, San Jose wouldn’t make quite such a mess of things. After Lovel Palmer cleared out a Justin Morrow cross, Marvin Chavez cracked it back into the box. Of course, San Jose would need a former Timber to polish things off, as Alan Gordon deflected the ball into the back of the net to pull one back for the Quakes.
As they did against Seattle, however, the Timbers reacted well to the concession. Portland looked like they might find themselves a goal to kill of the match in the 79th minute, as Mwanga found himself on the ball near the byline. Kris Boyd – aided by a boot to the back of the head – couldn’t steer Mwanga’s cross goalward, however, and the ball sailed wide.
Once again, however, while San Jose enjoyed plenty of possession in the Timbers’ half, the Portland defense had answers for every question the Quakes had left to ask. Three minutes into stoppage time San Jose saw their best chance, but Gordon couldn’t steer his header on frame in the face of well-placed Mike Chabala defense.
The Timbers’ plague, then, is still isolated to the road. Here at home, Portland looks every bit of a playoff team – even without three of its best, most consistent players. If the postseason is in Portland’s destiny – and again they stand just three points outside the final spot – the Timbers will have to find some heart away from home. As they’ve shown over the last three months, however, they have plenty of it at Jeld-Wen Field.
- This will come through in the grades, but the central defense – which includes for Tuesday’s purposes Lovel Palmer – was fantastic. They absolutely marked Chris Wondolowski, the midseason league MVP, out of the match. Wondo’s one shot was the fewest he has had in his last 27 matches; a 2-0 loss to the Galaxy on August 20, 2011.
- When Songo’o and Kalif Alhassan return from their respective hamstring injuries, John Spencer will have a decision to make. Both can play on the left wing, but – as Songo’o showed on Tuesday – both are better on the right. I think Spencer will move Songo’o back to the left, but the way Franck looked on Tuesday he should consider seeing if those sorts of results on the right are typical.
- With three points in hand from Tuesday, the Timbers probably need to get another three points out of the next two games to stay afloat. If they can do that, however, there is some hay to be made in late July and early August – with a set of home-and-homes with Chivas and Dallas and a visit to Toronto. None of those teams are very good, and all struggle at home. If there is a five-match stretch of the season where it looks like the Timbers could rack up some points, that’s it. From there, it’s a rough road to the finish line.
Troy Perkins, 6 – Nothing to complain about from Troy. Wasn’t called upon very often and can’t be faulted for the goal in any way whatsoever.
Steven Smith, 5 – With Songo’o’s dynamism on the right, things were a little quieter on the left side than they have been. Still, did nicely in defense to keep the Quakes offense in check.
Futty, 8 – Created the second goal and, as mentioned above, was huge in keeping San Jose quiet. Gordon and Wondolowski have scored 20 goals between them, so to limit their opportunities is a herculean accomplishment.
David Horst, 8 – See Futty.
Jack Jewsbury, 7 – Baca was about as effective as anybody for San Jose on Tuesday, but Jack and Franck did a more than serviceable job defensively on the right side. Must have had at least a half dozen interceptions. Oh, and that second goal came in handy, too.
Eric Alexander, 6 – Nice outing for Eric. Was unlucky to be denied by the post, but had a couple other efforts he probably should have steered on frame. While Songo’o was shredding San Jose on the right, Eric did enough to pose a legitimate threat on the left.
Lovel Palmer, 7.5 – This guy has taken – and deserved – a lot of knocks this year. He gets high praise for his effort last night. Solid defensively and disciplined on the ball. He even managed to steer a couple shots on frame.
Darlington Nagbe, 5 – Had a golden opportunity that he sent well high and wide in the first half. We need Darlington to keep taking those shots, however, so hopefully that won’t stick in his head. That said, he picked up a good chunk of the sidling slack with Diego out.
Franck Songo’o, 9 – I feel like the entire match report was about him, so I guess just see above. Absolutely fantastic. Hopefully his hamstring isn’t too bad.
Danny Mwanga, 8 – If this is the guy we traded Jorge Perlaza for, somebody needs to buy Gavin a case of beer. Good beer.
Kris Boyd, 5.5 – Didn’t get a goal – or many great chances, really – but put in a workmanlike effort off the ball. If he and Mwanga can get it going at the same time the Timbers could be very dangerous up front.
Mike Chabala, 6 – Very good effort from Chewy to spell Smith for half an hour. Found himself matched up against late-game hero Gordon quite a bit and more than held his own.
Sal Zizzo, 4 – The only guy really guilty of not closing out crosses on Tuesday. Did have a couple moments where he relieved pressure nicely, but on the whole not his best substitute outing.
Freddie Braun, 5 – Came on late for Palmer and fit in nicely in the midfield.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 2, Quakes 0. Boyd brace.
Actual Result: Timbers 2, Quakes 1. Mwanga, Jewsbury.
Onward, Rose City!