Take just a moment and think about how much happier life would be if the Timbers were 5-2-5 right now, sitting on 20 points in 4th place in the West, and a three point cushion between them and the playoff cutoff. The Timbers would be tied with San Jose for the fewest losses in MLS, and sit one spot behind Seattle with at least a game in hand on everybody above them. That’s how happy you would be if MLS matches were 80 minutes long.
But they’re not. And for the fourth time this season, the Timbers conceded a goal near the death to leave points on the field.
With John Spencer going to a 4-4-2 featuring the mini-mite central midfield of Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara, and Kalif Alhassan and Eric Alexander manning the wings, the Timbers brought a new look to Jeld-Wen Field on Saturday.
The changes worked borderline magnificently. The first half featured some of the best Timbers possession of the season, with over 80% passing and absolute dominance of the ball.
Between some stout Vancouver defense and some rust in the final third, however, Portland had little to show for it, as a Kris Boyd shot from distance in the 12th minute was the Timbers’ best opportunity on goal in the first half.
The best chance to break the deadlock went Vancouver’s way in the 45th minute, as Troy Perkins came out to take the ball off Sebastien Le Toux’s foot, but the former Sounder evaded Perkins, and laid the ball off for Camilo Sanvezzo. Camilo made a mess of his finish, however, sending it well wide.
Whereas the first half featured a lot of aesthetically pleasing play but little in the way of chances, the second was in many ways the opposite. The match became more physical, but the chances started to come.
Darlington Nagbe started the stanza in the 50th minute when he received a pretty cross from Jorge Perlaza at the near post, but in Camilo-esque fashion, botched his finish well high of the target.
In the 58th minute, Le Toux gathered a ball in the box, spun, and mishit a shot which deflected off of Hanyer Mosquera, only for Perkins to make a magnificent diving save, changing directions after the deflection.
The next ten minutes would take things to another level. In the 65th, after Kalif Alhassan collected a rebound from his own deflected shot, he took the ball toward the byline, only to be met in the box by the two feet of Jay DeMerit. The former American international wasn’t near the ball, and, as this incriminating photo on Stumptown Footy clearly shows, took Alhassan down. It was a clear penalty, and – like a few others for the Timbers this season – it went uncalled.
Two minutes later, however, the Timbers broke through. After a nifty piece of play from Alhassan in the box he laid it off for Jack Jewsbury. Jewsbury’s apparently goal-bound cross was awkwardly punched away by Joe Cannon, but only as far as Kris Boyd who tapped it in.
From there, the game turned back to the midfield. Portland seemed to fatigue, but Vancouver didn’t seem capable of creating anything truly dangerous.
That is, until the 84th minute. After Martin Bonjour sent a long free kick toward the box, Eric Hassli flicked the ball to Darron Mattocks ten yards out. David Horst overran Mattocks, who chested the ball toward the center of the field and volleyed past a helpless Troy Perkins.
And that was that. The Timbers didn’t have the legs to seriously challenge for the winner, and Vancouver was more than happy with a dubiously deserved draw. The three points would have been huge for Portland; putting the Timbers right in the thick of the playoff race going into the long league break. As it is, Portland is still feeling the effects of their early season struggles and late-game follies.
- While the Timbers certainly looked better offensively with the new lineup, there really weren’t that many golden opportunities. Aside from the botched penalty call, the Timbers’ only great chances were Nagbe’s shot over the bar and Boyd’s goal. One would expect more from a team as dominant as Portland on Saturday.
- Still, the offensive signs were positive for Portland, as for the first time since the Philadelphia match the Timbers really passed the eyeball test as a good team. Given a little bit more work in this formation – hello, Cal FC – this could mark a tactical turning point for Portland.
- While the referee is certainly deserving of criticism, it is purely speculative to say Portland would have scored two goals had the penalty been called. The missed call was only about two minutes before the Timbers’ real-life goal. Simply put, if the referee correctly signals for a penalty, it can’t be said with any certainty the course of the game thereafter would have led to a second Timbers’ goal. In fact, it seems unlikely – given their proximity in time and the disruptiveness of a penalty call – that in the 67th minute Jewsbury would have found Boyd in the box for a second goal in the same fashion it happened in real life. So, it’s fair to say the referee blew it. It’s speculative, however, to say had the referee not blown it, the Timbers would have won 2-1.
- The mini-mite midfield worked pretty well on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against a more physically imposing central midfield, though.
Troy Perkins, 6 – A little bit dodgy on Vancouver’s chance in the first half, but came up huge with his save in the second half. Helpless on the late concession, so that can’t really be attributed to him.
Steven Smith, 6.5 – A really nice game from Smitty. Lots of handy defending on the left side. Still gets caught upfield from time to time, but by far the best natural defender the Timbers have had in that position.
Eric Brunner, 5.5 – Didn’t have that much work to do while the Timbers’ midfield was bludgeoning Vancouver in the first half. Almost conceded a penalty when he fouled Camilo just outside the box in the 45th.
Hanyer Mosquera, 6.5 – The guy is just a monster. It wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve said exactly that in a previous grade.
Jack Jewsbury, 6 – I’m really growing to like Jack at right back. Defended well, combined with Kalif well, and sent some very nice crosses into the box.
Eric Alexander, 5 – Another tough game to grade Alexander. Had some really nice moments on the left wing, but ultimately struggled to create much out of it. He and Smith seemed to have a little trouble combining at times, so it may just be a matter of chemistry.
Diego Chara, 7 – Was a 10 in the first half and a 6 in the second half. Terrorized the sputtering Vancouver attack in the first half, but as the Caps started to go up the wings a little more, he was increasingly isolated. Also seemed to run out of gas a little bit. Still, had some fabulous stretches in his natural position.
Darlington Nagbe, 5.5 – Has to put that shot on frame. Still, Nagbe had a decent outing playing a little bit deeper than he has in the past. His prowess on the ball came in handy a number of times in transitioning from defense to attack. Attacking center mid is a good position for him.
Kalif Alhassan, 6 – His grade would be higher but for the fact he struggled mightily in the first half. Many a Timbers attack found its demise at the feet of Kalif early on. Until he fatigued, though, was back to his dynamic self in the second half. Time to get some fitness in him.
Jorge Perlaza, 4 – Regardless of his other qualities, you can’t put a striker out there that can’t finish.
Kris Boyd, 7 – Active up front again, and gets a boon in his grade for scoring the goal. Boyd has also become the heart and soul of this team. It’s no exaggeration to say this team’s fortunes for the rest of the season rest on his slightly slumped shoulders.
David Horst, 4 – Made an absolute mess of defending on the concession; giving Mattocks a free path to the center of the pitch. Other than that, though, Horst was fine.
Sal Zizzo, 5 – Didn’t get much opportunity to put his stamp on the match. Found the ball at his feet a couple times going forward, but didn’t make much of it.
Mike Fucito, 5.5 – Gracious, this guy has energy. I would be interested to see what he brings over the course of 90 minutes. He might just be an option as a second striker in this formation.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 2, Whitecaps 1. Perlaza brace.
Actual Result: Timbers 1, Whitecaps 1. Boyd, Mattocks.
Onward, Rose City!
 It was nominally a 4-3-3, but if that was the case, Darlington Nagbe was the deepest-lying striker in the history of offense.
 The referee also lied to the media about it after the match. After the game, Jorge Gonzalez – the same referee who whistled Steven Smith for a penalty on an inadvertent handball in Montreal – stated that he had an obstructed view of the play, and that his assistant didn’t think it was a penalty. Not true. In fact, the referee was in perfect position to see the play. Watch the bottom right corner at the beginning of that link. You’ll see Gonzalez coming across from left to right with a clear, unobstructed view of the tackle. I’m sure his assistant appreciates being thrown under the bus, too.
 This one wasn’t called either, by the way. Although there is a good argument to be made it would have properly been played as advantage. Gonzalez, apparently deer in the headlights, didn’t signal for either a foul or advantage.
 That adds up to a 7. Trust me.
 Wait, there’s a reserves match in a couple hours? Sweet.