The StubHub Center continues to be a hullabaloo for the Portland Timbers. Winless in seven tries at the house shared by Chivas USA and L.A. Galaxy, the Portland Timbers disappointingly drew the Goats in a disjointed Saturday evening affair.
The Timbers were out of synch from the gun on Saturday, as eight minutes in an inexplicable pass by Pa Modou Kah was easily intercepted by Carlos Alvarez to put the rookie through on goal, but Donovan Ricketts was quick off his line to deflect the finish away.
In the 15th minute, it was Jose Valencia’s turn to make goats out of Chivas’s defense. After picking the ball up near midfield, the young Colombian weaved through the rojiblanco traffic cones only to pull his shot wide from the top of the box.
The Timbers shaky early form, however, made a concession an eventually that arrived in the 23rd minute. After Kalif Alhassan was in position to easily intercept a Chivas switch, the young midfielder acted only as a turnstile on the ball’s way to Edgar Mejia. Alhassan then failed to either close down Mejia or track Carlos Borja’s overlapping run, freeing Borja to send a beautiful free cross from the left side into the box for Bryan de la Fuente, where the American youth international rose to nod it home off the inside of the far post.
The concession seemed to wake the Timbers up. The boys in green controlled much of the play for the remainder of the half, but couldn’t find any legitimate chances. Rodney Wallace found himself in space on the left side of the box after Darlington Nagbe ran into acres of space in the Chivas midfield, but sent his shot soaring well over the bar. Kah got head to a Will Johnson corner, but could only meekly bounce it straight at Dan Kennedy.
For the second game in a row, however, the introduction of Diego Valeri – this time at the half – changed the course of the match. Four minutes after coming on, Valeri found space and started a sequence that led to Valencia on the ball in the box with his back to goal. Holding off three Goats, Valencia laid it off for Valeri on the right side of the box, where the talisman laced it inside the far post for the equalizer.
Valeri popped up again in the 54th minute when he gathered the remnants of a great Diego Chara through ball that deflected off of Valencia’s heel and fired toward Kennedy’s goal, but the strike skipped just wide.
Five minutes later, Valeri should have been responsible for creating a second goal. After the ball bounced around the box – and Valencia again caused problems for Chivas in the area – Valeri picked out Rodney Wallace at the near stick, but Wallace’s open tap dribbled wide.
As the half went along, however, the Goats started to get their foot on the ball a little bit more and created a couple chances of their own. In the 67th minute, Erick Torres found himself through on goal after the Timbers backline fell asleep on a ball coming up Route One. Cubo gathered and tried to chip over a challenge from Ricketts, but the ball got away from Torres and Andrew Jean-Baptiste cleared. The Goats yelled for a penalty, but the two steps Torres took after his glancing collision with Ricketts exposed Cubo’s soap-quality theatrics.
Despite some positive spells of play as the second half went along, Chivas couldn’t find the winner, and, but for a fantastic sliding tackle from Bobby Burling, Portland may well have. After Valeri – who else – set Valencia through on the left side with another precisely weighted ball in the 79th minute, Trencito looked set to slot home the winner, but Burling’s last second intervention took the ball off Valencia’s foot and sent it behind for a corner.
There was one last gasp left in the game, but it belonged to Chivas. After Carlo Chueco gathered a partially cleared entry ball on the left wing, he sent it back into the box for Matthew Fondy. The cross was well too high for the mop-coifed forward, but ended up falling enticingly to late substitute Tristan Bowen. The Los Angelesian striker had a clear look at goal, but cracked a poor shot well over the bar with the last meaningful kick of the game.
While this Chivas team is much improved from the incoherent one that visited Portland in May, Portland nonetheless let themselves down by coming away with only a point. That’s a feeling that is all too familiar for the Timbers this season, and it’s a feeling that, should it stick around the Rose City over the next six weeks, could come back to haunt the Timbers come playoff time.
Notes & Observations
- While the result was disappointing, and it was clear the Timbers had three points for the taking, it’s worth noting that Chivas is on a decent run of form right now. At 2-2-3 in their last seven, this is a far cry from the team that went on a 14-game winless streak earlier this year.
- Lining up Kalif Alhassan and Sal Zizzo on the same side of the field was a bold choice by Caleb Porter. While Alhassan’s defense has improved this season, he is still quite a ways from being a legitimate defending midfielder, and was far from good in that respect on Saturday. Similarly, I’m not sure why Porter looked to Sal Zizzo at right back over Ben Zemanski, a player Porter has seemingly rated higher overall and has much more experience at the position. Nonetheless, the combination of Alhassan and Zizzo on the right side of the Timbers set up allowed Chivas to find quite a lot of joy on their left wing.
Donovan Ricketts, 7 – Remember those games early in the season when Ricketts would make two or three big time saves to keep the Timbers in the game? Well, he did it again Saturday. Oh, and Torres dove (more than once, really).
Michael Harrington, 4.5 – Didn’t have his best game offensively. Was his usual competent self defensively, but because of the Timbers set up, Harrington was often left unaccounted for in the attacking half. Despite finding himself in a position to do something on numerous occasions, he accomplished very little.
Pa Modou Kah, 4.5 – I’m not sure what he was thinking on his early pass straight to Alvarez, but he was fortunate not to concede a goal.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 5 – The central defense had a bit of a shaky day altogether on Saturday, with numerous nervous moments. Despite the midfield largely controlling the game, the defense did a poor job of keeping Chivas in check on the relative handful of times they were able to break out.
Sal Zizzo, 3.5 – Miscast at right back, Zizzo still looks a little bit confused about his positioning, which compounds the problems created by his below-average one-on-one defending.
Diego Chara, 7 – The best player on the field for an extended period on Saturday, Chara added more to the attack than we’ve seen recently, carving up Chivas’s midfield and repeatedly sending well-placed passes forward for Valencia and company.
Will Johnson, 5 – A little bit of a quieter day for Will, though mostly because Chara’s extra offensive aggression left the captain in defense more often than we usually see.
Rodney Wallace, 4 – Got himself in the right spots, but was uncharacteristically poor at the finish.
Darlington Nagbe, 3.5 – Was nothing short of wretched in the first half, shanking passes all over the field and letting his touch get away from him on multiple occasions.
Kalif Alhassan, 3 – His defense, or lack thereof, killed the team, including being caught with his fingerprints all over the concession. Kalif has come along in many way in many respects this year, but his performance on the road has not been one of them.
Jose Valencia, 6 – Had a couple looks that he could have done better with, but his holdup play was tremendous in the second half. Still learning the off-ball aspects – as you’d expect at this point of his career – but Valencia has molded himself into a very viable option up top.
Diego Valeri, 8 – Portland needs him on the field fulltime. If he isn’t full-go soon, it’s hard to see the Timbers doing anything more than squeaking into the playoffs and making a very early exit.
Maxi Urruti, 4 – Had a rough go in his first outing as a Timber, though, in his defense, this is a difficult point of the season to come into a team and make an immediate impact. The jury will have to remain out on Urruti until 2014.
Ryan Johnson, 4 – Ryan isn’t an 80th minute substitute kind of guy. He gets a lot of flak, but the team’s most successful stretches have been with Johnson as the first choice striker. At this point, he is the best fit systemically, even if Valencia is a bit more electric.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 1, Chivas 1. Valeri.
Actual Result: Timbers 1, Chivas 1. Valeri. In the words of Tom Petty, even the losers get lucky sometimes.
Onward, Rose City.