Match Report: Timbers Dominant without Dominating

Winning when a team isn’t playing its best soccer is a good thing.  A team crushing a playoff-contending opponent while not playing its best soccer is another thing altogether; downright scary.

The Portland Timbers didn’t play their best soccer on Sunday.  And yet, they beat the Colorado Rapids – two points out of playoff position – three-nil.

For the first ten minutes, however, the Timbers looked flat, as though the stretch of five games in 15 days had finally caught up to them.  Barely thirty seconds from kickoff Deshorn Brown lined up a free shot from the top of the box.  Pa Modou Kah got foot to block it, but the ball still blooped dangerously wide of the post.

Colorado nearly benefited from another deflection a minute later when a deflected cross popped over Kah’s head to Hendry Thomas at the near post, but the Honduran national’s header went nervously wide.  And the Rapids weren’t done.  Five minutes later, youngster Dillon Powers gathered at the top left corner of the box and took a touch into the center before unleashing a right footed shot that again missed just wide.

The Rapids’ first ten minutes were ten of the best minutes we’ve seen from an opponent at Jeld-Wen Field in 2013.  And then it came crashing to an end.

In the 12th minute, Rodney Wallace collected a quick Will Johnson free kick near the byline on the left wing and fired it into the box past a distracted Colorado defense.  There, Frederic Piquionne beat Nate Sturgis to the ball and headed off Clint Irwin’s hand, the bottom of the bar, and the line before it bounced into the top of the net.

From there the Timbers seized control of a game they had chased for the first ten minutes.  In the 22nd minute the Timbers manufactured another opportunity when Diego Valeri used a nice piece of skill to free Will Johnson in the middle of the park.  Johnson found Wallace again on the left side of the box, but the Tico fired wide into the side netting.

The Timbers continued to dominate through the next 20 minutes, as Diego Valeri succeeded in embarrassing every Coloradan that tried to defend him.  Nonetheless, the Timbers struggled to find the right combination to unlock the Rapids defense for a second time.

That is, until Will Johnson made some 45th minute magic.  After Wallace collected a flicked-on header from Piquionne, he attracted a pair of defenders on the left and cut the ball back across the grain for Will Johnson in the center of the box.  Johnson juggled once and hit a left footed strike that caught Irwin by surprise and scooted under his hand into the net.

Just on the other side of halftime, it was Diego Valeri’s turn to show some sweet skill.  After Piquionne won yet another header on a long ball from Donovan Ricketts, Valeri controlled the second ball in spinning, juggling fashion, before unleashing a quick shot from the top of the box that skipped just wide of the near post.

Down two goals, however, the Rapids had fight left in them.  In the 56th minute Atiba Harris sent a nice ball to Deshorn Brown at the back post, but the Jamaican rookie scuffed the volley wide.

Two minutes later Brown beat Ryan Miller on the byline and cut the ball back into the box for Nick LaBrocca, but LaBrocca’s ensuing effort to slot far post was cleared away from an open net by Jack Jewsbury.

The Timbers took control back, however, and in the 77th minute looked to have the goal to kill the game off.  After a Valeri corner bounced around the box, Wallace found Kah sitting just beyond the back post where his cross beat Irwin and was easily tapped home by Ryan Johnson.  The linesman, however, flagged Kah offside; a decision that looked correct in live action but couldn’t withstand the scrutiny of replays that showed the Gambian on the right side of the law.

Robbed of his first chance, Ryan Johnson wasn’t going to miss his second.  After Ben Zemanski intercepted a Drew Moor ball in midfield, the Akronite zipped forward and played Wallace through on the left.  Rodney first timed the ball to Johnson in the center of the box, where the Jamaican finished easily past a helpless Irwin.

Three goal celebrations for the Timbers Army,[1] three assists for Rodney Wallace, and three more points for the Timbers.

The Timbers weren’t especially sharp for extended stretches on Sunday, which only goes to demonstrate how good they are when they have a full roster to choose from.  Indeed, Portland’s 52.8% possession and 80.2% passing were south of the Timbers ordinary home production.[2]  Perhaps even more shocking, the Rose City was outshot 18 to 6.

But the tally of goals leaves absolutely no doubt who was superior on Sunday, as the Timbers dominated Colorado without dominating the match.

Notes & Observations

  • Although the Timbers were good in their absence, Sunday showed just how much Portland missed Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace.  The team certainly has depth, but is just a little bit more dangerous with those two in the lineup.
  • That said, Wallace, Will Johnson, and Frederic Piquionne are all but certain to be heading out on international duty for the Gold Cup.  These absences will once again be extended, as players whose countries get out of the group stage will miss at least three games; at Columbus, home against the Galaxy, and at Philadelphia.  Tack at San Jose on to that absence list if a player’s team advances to the title game, and potentially even the semifinal, as they would play in Dallas three days before the Quakes fixture.
  • At this point, it’s hard to see Martinique escaping the Group of Death with Canada, Panama, and Mexico, so it’s likely Piquionne will be back by the time Portland travels to Philadelphia.  I think Canada is likely – though no sure thing – to get through the group stage with one of the two quarterfinal berths for third-place finishers.  In which case, Will Johnson would likely be back in San Jose after a quarterfinal loss to one of the two top teams from the group stage.  Costa Rica is a bit of a wild card.  While most of their best players are on the Gold Cup preliminary roster, it remains to be seen whether they will get the final call in light of their heavy duty in World Cup Qualifying.  If Costa Rica goes all in, however, don’t be surprised to see them playing in the final at Soldier Field.  In which case, Rodney Wallace wouldn’t rejoin the Timbers until August 3rd against Vancouver.

Timbers Grades

Donovan Ricketts, 6 – He was fine, but let’s be honest, he had nothing meaningful to do.  Colorado had two shots on goal, with their first coming in the 83rd minute when the result was all but decided.

Jack Jewsbury, 5.5 – An acceptable game defensively on the left, but his grade gets a nice little bump for keeping the Timbers’ sheet clean in the 58th minute and preventing Colorado from getting back in the game.

Pa Modou Kah, 6 – A nice game from Kah, as he generally controlled his box nicely.  Lost a mark or two, but generally recovered enough to get a foot to any ensuing effort.  Unjustly deprived of an assist.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 6 – Much the same as Kah.  No big errors from Jean-Baptiste and Colorado were largely limited to half chances.  Good evening for the big man.

Ryan Miller, 6 – Getting beat by Deshorn Brown was the only poor moment in an otherwise pretty nice game from Miller, who has reemerged as a viable option at right back in relief of Jack Jewsbury or Michael Harrington.

Will Johnson, 8 – Was in and around the action all night, not the least of which being his spectacular first half goal.  It will be fascinating to see how the team operates in his absence.

Diego Chara, 7 – While everybody else in the midfield was being all fancy pants, Diego was being Diego.  47 for 51 passing, nine recoveries, and four headers.  You read that right, four headers.  Diego detractors need not read this space.

Rodney Wallace, 9 – It’s hard to overstate how good he’s been this season.  In many ways, Rodney is the direct yin to the rest of the midfield’s possession yang.  This is why Rodney fits so well with this team.  When they need somebody to move into the crucial spot and look to immediately create a scoring opportunity, they look to Rodney.  That worked thrice on Sunday.

Diego Valeri, 6.5 – His exhibition of skill in the first half was so much fun to watch.

Darlington Nagbe, 5.5 – Darlington didn’t need to have a huge game on Sunday and he didn’t.  It’s not that he wasn’t being aggressive, it was just that other guys were asserting themselves.  Darlington was just as good as he needed to be.

Frederic Piquionne, 8.5 – He doesn’t combine in the midfield as well as Ryan Johnson, but there wasn’t a header Piquionne didn’t win on Sunday.  That led to two goals on Sunday.[3]

Ryan Johnson, 7.5 – Tremendous in relief of Piquionne.  Not only a good scorer, but also a great facilitator of the offense.  Johnson is an all-around good forward.

Ben Zemanski, 7 – His best outing as a substitute.  Sparked the final goal and was otherwise very active in the midfield.

Kalif Alhassan, INC. – He’ll be back in the lineup shortly.

Preseason Prediction: Timbers 1, Rapids 1.  Will Johnson.
Actual Result: Timbers 3, Rapids 0.  Frederic Piquionne and the Johnsons.

Onward, Rose City!

[1] Okay, maybe four.

[2] Though it should be noted some of this was tactical; as the Timbers elected to go a little bit more direct with Piquionne up top and a Colorado team coming out pressing.

[3] Easily forgotten on the first goal, but the set piece that led to the scoring play was a result of Wallace controlling yet another Piquionne-won header.

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