Wins aren’t always dominant. But simply because one win wasn’t as pretty as the last doesn’t mean it wasn’t of similar quality.
In a game short on highlights and long on tackles, the Portland Timbers rode a magnificent Will Johnson set piece goal to a 1-0 victory.
Neither side had much in the way of chances. In the 25th minute, San Jose saw their most promising of the match when Rafel Baca got in behind Jack Jewsbury on the Quakes left wing, but Baca’s hard, low shot was right at Ricketts. The pace on the shot caused Ricketts to give up a little rebound, but the big Jamaican covered up a step before Alan Gordon could get there for the put-back.
Perhaps the unlikeliest shot of the game came two minutes later, however, when Darlington Nagbe found himself free on the left side of the box and unleashed a shot with his left foot. Nagbe’s shot was predictably tame, however, and Jon Busch covered up.
In the 30th minute the Timbers would get their traditional penalty shout, as Nagbe made a clever run into the box to the byline, only to be tackled from behind by Baca. At first glance it looked like Baca may have made contact with the ball before going through Nagbe, but on closer examination the penalty shouts proved meritorious, as Baca appeared to go through Nagbe first.
As Baca’s tackle demonstrated, however, the Quakes came out to be organized and physical. Ramiro Corrales somehow avoided being booked in the first half despite more than one opportunity for the referee, Alan Gordon picked up a yellow card for a very late challenge on Diego Chara, and the rest of the Quakes midfield used physicality to good effect to keep the Timbers’ offense off balance and largely out of the final third.
The Timbers, for their part, looked satisfied to poke and prod the Quakes defense, and find space where they could, but feed San Jose a steady diet of passing and possession to put some fatigue into the Quakes’ legs.
In the second half both teams reaped what they had sown. After pressing his luck by calling Will Johnson a homophobic slur in the 60th minute, the now disowned former Timber was sent off after receiving a second yellow for an elbow to Mikael Silvestre’s mouth in the 69th minute.
From there, the Quakes began to crumble under Portland’s pressure. Despite holding the Timbers to 5 shots to that point, Portland fired off six in the ensuing eight minutes.
The last of that six-pack was the winner. After Corrales took Kalif Alhassan down less than 25 yards out in the middle of the field, Will Johnson bent a beautiful free kick over the Quakes’ wall and inside the post.
Perhaps to some supporters’ surprise, however, the Timbers took their foot off the pedal from there. Try as they might, however, 10-man San Jose couldn’t break down the suddenly stout Timbers defense. Chris Wondolowski saw his only real chance come in stoppage time, as a long throw deflected to his head, but the ball had little pace and his header was right at Ricketts.
The win builds on what is becoming a trend for the Timbers that sends a foreboding message to future opponents. Against Seattle, Colorado, and San Jose, opponents managed to disrupt Portland’s offense and limit its ability to create genuine chances in the final third. Nonetheless, the Timbers have four goals and five points from those three games. Over the last several weeks, the Timbers have demonstrated that playing physical and packing it in against them is no guarantee of success, and even when things are difficult, Portland can still find the goals necessary to get a result. And as the Dynamo found out a week ago, when their offense is firing on all cylinders, the Timbers can overrun anybody.
Notes & Observations
- The Timbers haven’t conceded a goal in 222 minutes. This clean sheet stretch already ranks 4th in Timbers MLS history. The Timbers defense wasn’t unlocked for 225 minutes between April 28, 2012 and May 20, 2012; 255 minutes from April 23, 2011 to May 14, 2011; and a whopping 342 minutes from August 20, 2011 to September 21, 2011.
- While the Timbers defense has been very good over this stretch, the midfield has been the Timbers best defense. On Sunday, Portland held a dominant 64.3% of the ball, substantially limiting San Jose’s opportunities to build anything in the attack. So, while the defense has certainly proven an adequate level of competency, its true test will come in games where the Timbers don’t control the flow.
Donovan Ricketts, 7 – Not a ton to do, as San Jose only had three shots on goal, but Ricketts controlled his box well in coming out to handle a handful of crosses, and, in second half stoppage time, he was in the right spot when the Timbers needed him.
Jack Jewsbury, 6 – Got forward more than he did against Houston, including playing the ball through to Nagbe for the could-have-been penalty. His score is held down just a little bit because he got beat once or twice, including by Baca in the first half.
Futty, 6 – A confident performance from Futty, who has risen dramatically in Caleb Porter’s estimation in recent weeks. Had a difficult task in handling Gordon, Lenhart, and Wondolowski, and did nicely, even if I would have liked to see him win a few more headers.
Mikael Silvestre, 7 – Mikael is starting to make those who were critical of his signing look silly. While he got off to a rough start in Portland, his steady improvement has blossomed into quality.
Michael Harrington, 7 – He’s limited in the attack, but Harrington’s defense has come along nicely. After a rough preseason, Michael is looking like he can fill the void left by Steven Smith’s departure.
Will Johnson, 8.5 – It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that shift for Will Johnson. Was solid in possession and defense. Frustrated his opponents. Provided impassioned leadership. Struck the winning goal in magnificent fashion. He is our Captain.
Diego Chara, 6.5 – A typically nice day for Diego. Looked more like his usual self, though. Dominant, if a bit physical, in the center, and then generally making a mess of things in attacking positions.
Rodney Wallace, 6.5 – A little bit more subtle game for Rod than against Houston, but not much less effective. San Jose was forcing the Timbers to the wings for extended periods, and Rod and Kalif Alhassan kept the Timbers offense moving, even if struggling to score, throughout.
Darlington Nagbe, 4.5 – Made some really nice runs, but had several opportunities to do more than he did. His left footed strike, while unique, was wasteful, and Darlington had a number of chances in the second half that similarly went awry.
Kalif Alhassan, 6 – Kalif took on a more creative role on Sunday than he did a week ago, largely due to a little bit quieter game from Nagbe. Although he had a couple instances where he could have done better, his success opening spaces in San Jose’s defense was one reason for the Timbers late surge.
Ryan Johnson, 6 – This was a tough match for Johnson, as San Jose’s stellar center backs made it virtually impossible for him to get the ball in a promising position. Johnson, however, reacted by working harder, holding the ball up, chasing long balls down, and doing everything a good center forward does that often goes unnoticed.
Ben Zemanski, Frederic Piquionne, Ryan Miller, INC – Each guy came on as the Timbers were in the process of shutting it down. Nobody stood out, which primarily means mission accomplished.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 1, Quakes 1. Valeri, Wondolowski.
Actual Result: Timbers 1, Quakes 0. Will Johnson.
Onward, Rose City!