Say what you will about the 2013 Portland Timbers, but they don’t lack for heart. Three times in their first four games, the Timbers have fallen behind only to come back and earn a draw.
Going into Saturday, however, the Timbers had other plans in mind. Facing a severely weakened Colorado Rapids team, Portland had its eyes firmly set on three points in Commerce City.
In a game where chances presented themselves seemingly at random, the Rapids found the first one out of nowhere in the early stages. After Brian Mullan sent a ball into the box from 40 yards out on the right wing, Shane O’Neil somewhat meekly got head to it 15 yards from goal. The looping header floated its way toward the far post before bouncing back off the inside of the woodwork. The Timbers were unable to immediately clear the danger, however, and the rebound deflected across the face of goal to Tony Cascio at the near post, but his attempt to tap home was denied by the opposite post.
The danger cleared, Portland began to string together some solid play through the midfield, but ultimately couldn’t find the final pass to put them through on goal.
Instead, the Timbers once again found a way to give up the first goal. In the 18th minute, after Donovan Ricketts shanked a routine clearance out of bounds, Chris Klute gathered after Edson Buddle worked himself into a sideline trap. Klute played Dillon Powers back toward the center of the field, where he found more than enough space to fire into the back of the net from 25 yards.
Portland’s best chance of the first half presented itself in the 21st minute, when Rapids keeper Clint Irwin failed to clear a corner, and the ball bounced around the box eventually finding Andrew Jean-Baptiste at the back post. Drew’s poke, however, went well wide under good defending from Marvell Wynne.
Down a goal at halftime is nothing new for this Timbers team. Come to think of it, neither is being down two goals in the second half.
The Timbers checked that second box in the 48th minute. After Ben Zemanski and Jean-Baptiste combined for one of the Timbers’ trademark moments of forehead-slapping defending, Cascio burst through on goal. Cascio got his steps wrong, though, and was quickly closed down by Donovan Ricketts. At the same time Ricketts was gathering the ball off of Cascio’s foot, however, Diego Chara clipped the Colorado forward from behind, inspiring the referee to whistle for a very soft penalty. Hendry Thomas coolly converted, and the Commerce City boys appeared in business.
Moments later, however, the Timbers would benefit from some of the Rapids’ forehead-slapping defense. After Colorado cleared a Valeri free kick, Michael Harrington played it back to Ryan Johnson on the left wing. Johnson, completely unbothered by any number of observant Colorado players, sent a cool cross into the top of the six for a similarly observed Will Johnson, who easily nodded inside the near post.
The referee set Colorado up in a dangerous position in the 59th minute, however, after Deshorn Brown slipped on the ball on the left edge of the box, only to have the man in yellow whistle Andrew Jean-Baptiste for, apparently rudely, not catching Brown to break his fall. The Timbers nullified the Emily Post foul, however, when the ensuing free kick was cleared by Frederic Piquionne at the near post.
Five minutes later Colorado knocked on the door again, as Shane O’Neill collected an uncleared corner at the top of the box and hit a pretty shot on frame, only to be parried away by a diving Ricketts.
In the 68th minute, however, it was the Timbers’ turn to apply pressure. After pinging the ball around the attacking half, the Timbers earned a series of corners and attacking throws. The third corner was the charm, as in the 70th minute Diego Valeri found David Horst beyond the back post. Horst had beaten Atiba Harris and would have had a free header, but Harris grabbed Horst and flung his leg around the center back, which only served to impede Horst. The referee blew for a penalty, which Will Johnson smashed past Irwin, leading to an arm-flailing celebration that begs for repetition.
From there, neither team could muster more than half chances, as tired legs further dulled the Timbers’ already less-than-stellar attack. While the result marks the third time in four matches the Timbers have shown the pluck to come back from goal(s) down, the reality of the Timbers’ habit of falling behind is manifestly unsustainable. Three points from four games is still three points from four games, no matter how hard-earned.
- While the results have been mediocre, it’s important to keep things in perspective a little bit. Merritt Paulson and Caleb Porter are correct insofar as this Timbers group has already shown substantially more grit than any of the prior two MLS Timbers teams. Additionally, while the team hasn’t looked as sharp on the road, the Timbers tactics have much more systematic direction than they ever did in the Spencer Era, even if the execution isn’t quite perfect yet. Don’t be surprised to see a few more frustrating results in the coming months, but also don’t be surprised to see this Timbers team improve significantly over the course of the season.
- There was certainly a measure of justice in the two penalties. Although they were both arguably meritorious within the four corners of the rules, they were both the type of play you’ll see go uncalled with regularity. Nonetheless, considering they were awarded a soft penalty of their own, I thought Colorado’s postgame bellyaching about Horst’s penalty showed considerable chutzpah.
Donovan Ricketts, 5 – Struggled mightily in distribution in the first half playing against the wind, which indirectly led to the first concession. Made a nice save in the 63rd minute, however, to keep the Timbers within one.
Ben Zemanski, 6.5 – A couple shaky moments of defending, including in the buildup to the penalty, but was otherwise solid defensively. Has shown himself over the course of the last three games to be the best crosser of the ball on the team, something that has come in handy time and time again. Early returns on the Zemanski era at right back are good. Could he be the one to break the Curse of Kerrea Gilbert?
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 4 – A little bit undisciplined at the back, as he combined with Zemanski to make a mess on the penalty, and also had a couple other hairy moments. Not AJB’s best effort, but more or less passable.
David Horst, 5.5 – Looked a little bit out of place in the first half, but grew into the game as it went along. Did nicely to find himself in a good spot on the corner that led to the penalty.
Michael Harrington, 6 – Had a quietly effective day, as some of the best moments on the left side in the attack involved Harrington, including playing a big part in holding Will Johnson onside on the first goal by dragging his defender down the touchline. Didn’t have a ton to do defensively, as Colorado was generally pretty quiet on the right.
Diego Chara, 4 – Looked out of place again on the right. Probably not the best idea to make his halfhearted challenge that led to the penalty, but, in his defense, the call was about as soft as they come. The farther right Diego goes the worse he gets, and, as his heat map shows, he spent a lot of time far out on the wing on Saturday.
Jack Jewsbury, 3.5 – If anybody is to blame on the first concession, it’s Jack. Overplayed his positioning when the ball was on the touchline and didn’t recover in time to pressure Powers. Then again, it didn’t help that he had to go through the referee to get there.
Diego Valeri, 5 – Had a much better first half than I first thought, as he sent a number of balls forward that, with better play on the receiving end, could have turned into something. Was noticeably out of synch as the game went on, however, looking downright gassed by the end.
Will Johnson, 8 – Aside from his brace, which was – to say the least – very nice, Will also had a nice day in the midfield, covering a tremendous amount of ground and winning more than his share of challenges.
Darlington Nagbe, 2 – Just awful from Nagbe. All those good balls from Diego Valeri that nobody noticed? Yeah, that’s because more often than not Darlington was making an indecisive mess of them.
Ryan Johnson, 6 – Had another quiet outing, as most of the crosses into the box were carried away by the wind, and the team had a hard time moving the ball through the middle of the field to link up with him. Had his one moment and made the most of it, however, with a very good cross to Will Johnson for the first goal.
Frederic Piquionne, 5 – A more effective outing than against Seattle, as Piquionne found himself in positive spots on the wings a few times and held the ball up nicely. Also sent a wicked cross into the box that perhaps was more impressive than effective.
Rodney Wallace, 5 – A quieter outing for Rodney than a couple of his previous substitute appearances.
Kalif Alhassan, 5.5 – Found himself on the ball a couple times and made a noticeable impact in a very short spell.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 1, Rapids 1. Ryan Johnson.
Actual Result: Timbers 2, Rapids 2. Will Johnson (x2).
Onward, Rose City!
 Chara certainly clipped Cascio, even if it was probably ultimately harmless because Ricketts was already in position to snuff out Cascio’s run. Horst’s penalty was a little bit softer foul, although had more impact on the play, as David would have otherwise been free to head that in front of goal.
 I’m making up curses now. But seriously, is it that unreasonable in light of the mess the right back situation has been?
 I also guessed that Hendry Thomas would score, which, considering he hadn’t scored since his days playing on Honduras, was a bold prediction.