Match Report: Mama Said There Will Be Days Like This

Some days you just can’t find the net.  You do everything right.  Distribute nicely out of the back.  Move the ball through the midfield with ease.  Feed the ball to promising attacking areas around the box.  And still, the ball just won’t go through the wickets.

Thursday was one of those days for the Timbers.  Through a combination of flatness in the final third, bad luck, and good goalkeeping, the Portland Timbers dominated the ball, put 9 shots on frame and many more tantalizingly close, and still came away with the scoreless draw.

A sign of future foibles showed up in the 7th minute, when Diego Valeri did brilliantly to gather a header from Ryan Johnson and combine with Darlington Nagbe to set him into space, but ultimately the Argentine sailed his volley over the bar.

The true harbinger, however, appeared eight minutes later when Diego Chara set Nagbe one on one with Bobby Shuttleworth, but Nagbe chose to strike it first time from outside the box, ultimately hitting it right at Shuttleworth’s right foot.

Nagbe sent another chance begging in the 30th minute, when a corner was cleared to him at the top right side of the box.  Nagbe’s volley, somewhat reminiscent of his wondergoal in 2011, elevated just over the bar.

The buildup kept coming, but the Timbers just couldn’t break through.  In the 39th minute a corner fell dangerously for Valeri, but his goalward shot was deflected behind for a corner at the last moment.

As you so often see in games like this, despite seeing very little of the ball, New England had their chances.  Their best of the first half came in the 42nd minute, when they worked the ball around the horn to Ryan Guy on the left side of the box, but his dangerous shot was deflected just wide.  There would be no deflection on the ensuring corner, however, as Jerry Bengston got a free head to the ball, but his header looped inches over the bar onto the top of the goal.

The Revs chance was the exception to the increasingly significant rule of Timbers dominance.  As the half went along, Portland’s opportunities presented themselves seemingly at will, but for all the possibilities, none would find themselves nestled comfortably in the back of the net.

How easily determination leads to frustration, however, as the Timbers’ bad luck in failing to find the right touch in the first half quickly turned into a struggle against themselves in the second half.

But for Shuttleworth it could have been so different.  After Will Johnson and Rodney Wallace put in a nice piece of work to free Wallace for a cross from the left side of the box, Ryan Johnson found himself with a free volley at the near post.  Again, however, the shot found the stranded Shuttleworth’s left knee and bounced away.

As every minute ticked by, a growing feeling of inevitability grew throughout Jeld-Wen Field.  It was just one of those days.  It had to be.

Despite their frustration, the Timbers persisted in working themselves into the right positions.  In the 63rd minute, new entrant Frederic Piquionne got free on the left wing and sent a Premier League cross into the box, but his target – Diego Chara – was a head too short.

Nine minutes later it was another newbie that nearly broke the deadlock, this time for New England.  In the 72nd minute Saer Sene, the lone goalscorer a year ago in New England, found an acre of space in the middle of the field and pulled the trigger on a left footed shot that beat Donovan Ricketts, but could only tickle the top of the net on its way harmlessly by.

Aside from a handful of chances, the day’s ill fate largely kept the Timbers at bay in the final fifteen minutes.  Only a big Jamaican could keep New England at bay.

After Sear Sene found space between substitute Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Futty, he got through one-on-one with Donovan Ricketts.  Sene is no Darlington Nagbe, however, and his strike looked dangerous enough to beat the towering keeper, but Ricketts, whose splendor has preserved more than one result for Portland in 2013, went down quickly and got just enough of a palm on the ball to send it skipping wide of the post.  In an early season full of good saves, this may have been Ricketts’ best, and it came at a vital moment to keep the Timbers from a crushing defeat.

In the end, as the brief postgame press conference awkwardly indicated, there was really nothing to say.  It was just one of those days.

Notes & Observations

  • There isn’t much to be concerned about from the Timbers’ standpoint.  As Caleb Porter pointed out, when you get 22 shots, including nine on frame, you’re doing something right.  The shots weren’t prayers from distance, either.  The Timbers were doing exactly what they wanted to do through he midfield, and even into the final third.  For one reason or another, however, they just couldn’t finish.  If this were a habit, there might be reason to raise an eyebrow, but, as the win in Kansas City demonstrated, the Timbers have been reasonably opportunistic lately.
  • As Caleb Porter indicated in the club’s press release, the signing of Ka Pah comes at a relatively desperate time for center backs on Morrison Street.  The absence of Mikael Silvestre was conspicuous after he went out with a torn ACL.  The spaces that Sene and company repeatedly found in the middle were the same spaces that Futty and Silvestre had shut down for over an hour.  While concern about Pah’s resume of late is reasonable, the front office has earned the benefit of the doubt with what, despite early skepticism, turned out to be sharp signings in Silvestre and Piquionne.

Timbers Grades

Donovan Ricketts, 8 – It doesn’t get a whole lot better than the save he made to preserve the draw in the 85th minute.  The simple reality is this: Ricketts has been nothing short of great in 2013.

Jack Jewsbury, 6 – A nice outing from Jewsbury.  Porter was a little bit more aggressive with him as the Timbers became more desperate for the goal they deserved, and Jack did well in finding himself a couple dangerous shots and combining well on the left, while not exposing his defensive position.

Futty, 5.5 – Had a really nice partnership with Silvestre, as they had New England running at them a couple times, and turned the Revs away with little drama.  It’s clear Futty was the Robin to Silvestre’s Batman, however, as the connection with Andrew Jean-Baptiste wasn’t nearly as good.

Mikael Silvestre, 7 – Aside from his aforementioned tremendous defending, Mikael almost found himself a goal in the 45th minute when he got foot to a Wallace cross.  His loss is very, very significant.

Michael Harrington, 5 – A relatively quiet game again from Harrington, which, as long as the offense is knocking the ball around well, I’ll take from my fullbacks.  The other thing is just too silly to merit discussion in this forum.[1]

Will Johnson, 6 – A nice game from Will, who had a handful of nice tackles and appearances in the attack, including an 80th minute strike from outside the box that had Shuttleworth beat, but sailed just high and wide.  Takes a little knock in his grade for being a little too aggressive and occasionally leaving space in front of the center backs.

Diego Chara, 5.5 – His grade is deflated just a little bit by a couple instances of uncharacteristically loose defense in the midfield, but showed flashes of the incisive attacking distribution that made him the unlikely early league leader in assists.

Rodney Wallace, 6 – I thought he might be a little flat coming off his coming out party in Kansas City, but ultimately many of the Timbers’ best chances came through Rod.

Diego Valeri, 5.5 – Had a handful of chances that went begging, but was otherwise effective in the buildup.  Valeri isn’t perfect as a finisher, but his final touches have more of a cool purpose in them that makes them best suited to beat the keeper.  Valeri did just that in the 82nd minute, but unfortunately his shot that stranded Shuttleworth dribbled wide of the far post.

Darlington Nagbe, 4 – There were so many things that looked so good, but he has to finish.  His one-on-one with Shuttleworth was just a disaster.

Ryan Johnson, 4.5 – Was as quiet as he’s been all season, but every time I go back and take a second look at a game I find something subtly significant that Johnson did that I didn’t notice on first watch.  This time it was his beautifully cushioned header to Valeri to set up his 7th minute combination with Nagbe.

Frederic Piquionne, 6 – Piquionne is a little bit frustrating at times, such as his 70th minute free header that was straight at Shuttleworth.  There are moments, however, where he shows remarkable quality.  His cross for Chara was just such a moment.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 4 – Maybe this is a little bit unfair, but the positioning juxtaposition between he and Silvestre was unkind to AJB.  Then again, that probably has to do with the 16 years of top-flight football Silvestre has on Andrew.

Kalif Alhassan, 4 – A little bit disappointing, as I thought he was coming on in a really favorable spot on the left with Wallace shifting to left back.  But Kalif’s bench performances have been inconsistent, which really isn’t altogether surprising.

Preseason Prediction: PTFC 3, Revs 0. Ryan Johnson (x2), Diego Chara.
Actual Result: Timbers 0, Revs 0.

Onward, Rose City!

[1] Which is remarkable in and of itself.

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