For a few moments on Wednesday it appeared as though the Timbers may be poised to capture their first road win of 2012. Then, for another few moments, it appeared as though Portland would continue its absurd away ineptitude and capture the inside track to the wooden spoon. And finally, the Timbers pulled even for a deserved draw against their cellar-dwelling colleagues.
The Timbers found success in the early going, as they dominated the ball and found the better of the chances. In the eighth minute, the Timbers opened their opportunities when Sal Zizzo sent a corner toward David Horst at the far post, but Portland’s first choice set piece target’s header went just over the bar.
In the nineteenth minute, Donovan Ricketts nearly made his first mistake in Timbers baby blue, as an Eric Hassli shot squirted through the enormous Timbers’ keeper’s hands but sailed just over the bar.
Two minutes later, Zizzo himself would make some corner kick magic. After Steven Smith found Horst’s head again, Zizzo poked the ball toward goal only to be denied by Eric Avila. The ball rebounded back to the food carteur, who tapped the opener home.
While Toronto saw more of the ball in the remainder of the first half, neither team could break through to create anything significant in the way of chances.
Portland nearly seized control after the break, however, as another neatly placed Zizzo set piece found a diving Horst at the far post, but Horst couldn’t quite steer the ball back toward goal.
Two minutes later Kris Boyd put the ball in the back of the net, but was called offside after Darlington Nagbe held the ball a step too long before sending it through to the Scot.
The previously competent Timbers defense, however, would fold in the fifty-seventh minute. After Toronto earned a free kick just inside their defensive half on the right wing, Richard Eckersley popped his free kick forward onto the head of Reds’ defender Adrian Cann. Cann nodded down to the feet of Luis Silva in prime position, but the rookie was denied by a diving Ricketts. Hassli was apparently the only player interested in the rebound, however, and he easily tapped in.
So many times this year, when the Timbers concede on the road, they have conceded again in short order. Such was the case in the sixty-third minute, as Kosuke Kimura lost Ashtone Morgan on the Timbers right side. Morgan’s cross was met at the near post by Silva who easily redirected home.
Things should have been leveled in the seventieth minute, when the newly introduced Mike Fucito raced onto a perfectly timed through ball from Diego Chara. Fucito found himself behind the defense, but was clipped and taken down from behind by Eckersley. On his way down, Fucito found Boyd all alone twelve yards from goal, but the one-time Timbers’ talisman tamely tapped toward Toronto ‘tender Milos Kocic.
In the eighty-second minute, however, Portland did pull level. After Smith threw to Fucito on the left wing, the active striker laid it back to Smith, who gave to Boyd, who then found Eric Alexander twenty-five yards out. Alexander slipped a beautiful through ball to Smith, who crossed to a wide-open Darlington Nagbe for an easy headed goal. It was one of the better buildups of the season, as the Timbers have rarely showed such short passing verve in the attacking third.
Two minutes later, the Timbers should have had a golden opportunity to lock up three points. In the eighty-fourth minute, Fucito again found himself through on goal. For the second time, Eckersley took down Fucito when he was through on goal. This time he jumped on Fucito’s back, taking the diminutive forward down and allowing Kocic to collect the loose ball. Of course, referee Geoff Gamble failed to give the clearly appropriate penalty and straight red card.
Gamble did find it appropriate, however, to book Hanyer Mosquera seconds later after he got tangled up with Keith Makubya while pursuing a 50-50 ball. With the Timbers’ chance at a winner snuffed out, Toronto nearly found their winner on the ensuing free kick. After Torsten Frings’ free kick deflected slightly off of the Timbers’ wall, Makubya got a touch to the ball, but his redirection sailed a foot wide of the near post.
Wednesday’s match largely left Timbers supporters searching for the appropriate response. On one hand, it was a vastly better result on the road. On the other, it was against a weakened cellar-dwelling Toronto team. On one hand, the Timbers melted down and allowed two goals in a six-minute period. On the other, the Timbers battled back from the deficit to tie the game and, but for some incompetent officiating, probably would have won it.
In the end, however, the Timbers find themselves on Thursday in largely the same position they were in on Tuesday: hopelessly out of the playoff race and in a neck-and-neck race for the wooden spoon.
- While the Timbers success on the wings on Wednesday can be seen as a sign of progress – and it may well be – it should be pointed out that Toronto’s fullbacks are awful. While Reds’ supporters may point to the absence of Jeremy Hall as a reason for their vulnerability, Timbers’ fans know better. Toronto’s fullbacks just stink.
- I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player escape two near misses with a straight red card in a game without even so much as a foul. Although Fucito probably bailed him out on the first by laying the ball off for Boyd, Eckersley clearly clipped the striker, fouling him to diffuse a clear goalscoring opportunity. Similarly, when he jumped on Fucito’s back in the box in the second instance, he was denying Mike another clear opportunity. Such fouls are supposed to be automatic red cards, out of the discretion of the referee. Then again, this is the MLS.
Donovan Ricketts, 5 – Had a nervous moment early when he fumbled Hassli’s eighteenth minute shot, but was otherwise competent in goal. Did well to save Silva’s shot on the first concession, and would have snuffed the opportunity if his defense had been interested in helping him out. Overall, a decent but unspectacular debut for Ricketts.
Steven Smith, 6 – Had a little bit more cover from Rod Wallace on the left than he does from Songo’o, and had a decent game defensively. His biggest contribution came on the Timbers’ equalizer, where his combination play was vital to the run up.
Hanyer Mosquera, 4 – Up and down game for Mosco. Had several nice moments, but it was hard not to notice him getting beat to the rebound on the first concession.
David Horst, 6 – Has surprisingly become the Timbers’ set piece target, and has done very well in that role. May have been able to do better on the second concession to cut off the cross, but the cross shouldn’t have been sent in to start with.
Kosuke Kimura, 3 – Bears the vast majority of the responsibility for the second concession, as he never should have allowed Morgan to get free.
Jack Jewsbury, 6 – Jack’s 2012 appears to be a mirror image of his 2011. Whereas Jack started well and faded in 2011, he started poorly and is now coming on in 2012. He didn’t do anything flashy on Wednesday, but has become the guy that does lots of little things right.
Diego Chara, 6 – I was surprised to see Diego get a little bit of flak for his performance on Wednesday. Yes, some of his passes were a little bit looser than normal, but he also had a few nice through balls, was – as usual – very active, and was the most influential player in the central midfield for either side.
Darlington Nagbe, 7 – He’s still dribbling too much, and actually got dispossessed a couple times more than I would like, but scoring a goal and completing 48 of 51 passes is a good game for an attacking central mid. It’s been a rough summer for Darlington, and hopefully this can help him snap out of it a bit.
Rodney Wallace, 4 – Wasn’t effective going forward, and occasionally looked confused about his defensive responsibilities. Still, provided decent cover for Smith and – surprisingly – won a good number of headers on Toronto set pieces to avert a ratings disaster.
Kris Boyd, 2 – Was largely anonymous when he wasn’t set up with a nice chance, and when Fucito did set him up, Boyd made a mess of it. Had a couple helpful flicks on, but otherwise was pretty useless. A benching wouldn’t be out of order.
Sal Zizzo, 7 – Oh yeah, and then there’s Sal. Great offensive game from Sal. Aside from using his pace well, Sal unleashed some previously unknown set piece prowess. Also, showed some creativity by wearing camouflage, as Toronto clearly couldn’t see him in the six yard box.
Mike Fucito, 7 – Perhaps his best game in a Timbers uniform. Criminally unfortunate not to draw a penalty and red card on Eckersley. He may soon get another chance in the XI.
Eric Alexander, 6 – Was otherwise only solid, but had a moment of magnificence in the build up to the Timbers’ equalizer.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 2, Toronto 0. Boyd, Dike.
Actual Result: Timbers 2, Toronto 2. Zizzo, Nagbe.
Onward, Rose City!
 One thing to keep in mind about Diego is by pushing him farther up the field, Diego’s pass completion percentages are naturally going to go down. Simply put, the vast majority of a true holding midfielder’s passes are low-risk. A more attacking central mid, however, is looking to make plays by making higher-risk, higher-reward passes.
 Thanks to Sean for pointing out I forgot to grade Zizzo. My omission is totally understandable considering Sal really didn’t do anything that important on Wednesday. You know, like score the Timbers’ first away goal in more than four months.