Unconcerned with three disappointing results, Caleb Porter pronounced his team ready for the regular season immediately after pulling back a draw against AIK.
Porter’s confidence was borne out early by the offense, as the Timbers opened the game putting AIK’s sterling defense under pressure.
Diego Chara created the first of the chances for the Timbers in the third minute. After Chara got Portland out on the break with a nice tackle on the right wing, he laid it off to Diego Valeri, who elected to go straight at goal and sent his shot well wide.
Valeri set Darlington Nagbe up for an even better chance eight minutes later at the right corner of the box, but Nagbe’s low shot dragged just wide of the far post.
As good as the Timbers’ offense was in the early going, AIK’s defense was just stout enough to be up to the considerable task of keeping Portland off the scoresheet. In the 28th minute, AIK would break through with a goal against the grain. After Henok Goitom beat the Timbers’ defense and got on the end of a through ball, he sidestepped a somewhat meekly onrushing Donovan Ricketts, and slid the ball just inside the far post from a tight angle.
The Timbers’ immediate reaction to the concession was strong, but AIK was clearly emboldened by the score, and pressed Portland as hard over the next ten minutes as they would all night. In the 33rd minute, Celso Borges settled a ball and fired toward goal, but Ricketts – in his best save of preseason – dove to parry away.
AIK nearly found the sheet again in the 35th minute, as Martin Lorentzson got head to a Gnaget cross, but saw the ball fly just over the bar and onto the top of the net.
Bullets dodged, the Timbers would take one more crack at an equalizer before halftime. Valeri got on the end of a Ryan Johnson 45th minute cross, and knocked it to ground toward goal, but the ball – which was almost certain to beat AIK keeper Ivan Turina – bounced just wide of the near post.
Valeri was back at it in the second half, as the Timbers continued to turn up the pressure on AIK. In the 51st minute, Valeri sized up a free kick from just beyond the left corner of the box and bent it toward the bottom corner of the near post, but Turina did well to steer it wide.
The Timbers continued to apply pressure, but when they would finally work themselves into a promising spot, they couldn’t find the final pass or the shot was right at Turina. In both the 60th and 63rd minutes, Darlington Nagbe found himself in such a position, only to be kept out easily by the well-positioned former Dinamo Zagreb keeper.
Will Johnson was the first to truly test Turina with a cruelly swerving strike in the 70th minute, but the netminder palmed it down and collected the little-too-hard-for-comfort back header from his central defense.
As Portland pressed harder and harder, AIK looked to exploit the Timbers’ inexperienced backline on the break. In the 73rd minute, AIK should have put the game away, as Victor Lundberg got loose on the right and sent a dangerous cross into the box, but Kennedy Igboananike couldn’t bury the sitter.
The Timbers made AIK pay a minute later, as Michael Harrington set Nagbe free on the byline. The Akron alumnus collected and fed Harrington right back into the box where he slotted the perfectly teed ball inside the far post. After painstaking work, the Timbers finally solved the stout AIK defense.
The Gnaget threatened one more time, however, when Borges one-timed an 83rd minute cross at the back post, but his unimpeded effort went just wide.
From there it was all Timbers. A minute later, Jose Valencia made a steaming vertical run with the ball at his feet, but Trencito’s outside right foot effort went relatively quietly wide of the near post.
Trencito also had a hand in what was nearly the winner at the death, as well, when he got loose down the right in stoppage time. After cutting the ball back he forced Turina into a tough save from a narrow angle. The rebound fell to Diego Chara, but the ball was tackled away in the direction of Will Johnson, who tapped home before being correctly whistled offside.
Porter’s satisfaction with the performance, however justified, does not change the fact that the Timbers’ best eleven dominated two preseason tournament matches without a maximal result. The question now for the Timbers is whether they can turn aesthetics into results. That question, however, will have to be answered in games that count. The preseason is over.
Notes & Observations
- After bring asked a couple questions in the postgame press conference about whether he was concerned about slow starts, Porter gave the best answer to a question in his young Timbers career. “I thought we actually started the game very well. A very good start to the game. If you watched the game – I know you guys always just look at the goals and results all the time, but I’m a coach so I look at the flow of the game.” After talking about how he didn’t make a few moves because he was pleased with how the game was going, Porter continued, “So in the first half, I thought actually if you watched the game and you know soccer, we played very well.” The assembled media deserved this mini-undressing. Porter was clearly correct; the Timbers started off very well, dominating the first twenty minutes of the game.
- Porter’s satisfaction wasn’t universal, however. While generally positive about how the team is coming together, Will Johnson noted, “Obviously I think there is a sense of disappointment that we weren’t able to win here. Obviously, a big part of making this team successful is turning Jeld-Wen into a fortress, and it’s one of our goals. We really wanted to win the game tonight, so we’re a little disappointed with that.”
- As he point out postgame, wearing the armband is something that comes easily to Will. “I’ve always tried to be a leader. I try to lead by example, and never take a day off. Always be the hardest working guy and hope that people see that I like to lead by example. And it really doesn’t change a whole lot for me – be a little more vocal, maybe be in a few more decisions, try to get the guys fired up, and to make sure that if somebody’s not on the right page, to make sure that they get on the page quickly . . . It’s something that I enjoy, I love the responsibility to make sure that everybody’s here on the same page, because ultimately, when you’re given the captain’s armband, you’ve gotta step up, and you’ve gotta lead by example, and I want to win more than anybody, that’s for sure.”
Donovan Ricketts, 5 – His weakness on the concession was a contributing factor, but otherwise Ricketts had his best game of the preseason – making several other saves to keep things close.
Ryan Miller, 4 – Had some nice moments in defense, but was a little bit sleepy on the concession and had a few errant crosses in the attack.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 4.5 – As Porter indicated, it was a tale of two halves for the center backs. In the first, ALJ looked like he wasn’t up to the task of leading a backline. In the second, he was much stronger.
Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, 4 – Was one of the loose players on the concession, but, again, had a much better second half. I was particularly impressed with his instinct and willingness to come up out of the natural center back position to win a ball and send it back into the midfield. While DTG is likely to fall out of the rotation once Mikael Silvestre gets here and David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera get healthy, don’t be surprised if he ends up being a serious contributor a year or two down the road. All told, a very impressive preseason tournament for Dylan.
Michael Harrington, 6 – Along with the goal, Michael had a couple nice crosses that nearly got the Timbers on the board in the first half. He’s looking more and more comfortable. Further improvement will help provide cover for a backline that is still trying to find its way.
Diego Chara, 7 – I don’t grade Diego down too much for his final third foibles because, well, that’s really not his job. What is his job is stringing passes together in the midfield and harassing the opponent the instant they win the ball. In that respect, he was excellent on Saturday.
Diego Valeri, 7 – The guy is absurd in how he fills up the stat sheet, and seemingly creates chances at will. The one nitpick I have is that a couple times per game he tends to make up his mind too early and go at goal when he should look to cross. I will happily live with that as his flaw, however.
Will Johnson, 4.5 – Seemed to be a little bit off in the first half, but righted the ship in the second and nearly got the winner. Don’t blame him too much for being offside there, as it was a little bit of a scramble.
Kalif Alhassan, 7.5 – Went through a stretch in the first half where he had trouble weighing his passes, but was otherwise tremendous. Victimized AIK midfielders and defenders repeatedly. At this point, his offense is too good to keep him off the field – defensive struggles and all. We’ll see if this keeps up.
Darlington Nagbe, 7 – I was a little bit suspicious about Valeri’s effect on Nagbe, but it’s turned out to be just as good as Caleb Porter promised. Nagbe has been freer, more confident, and much more willing to take a crack at goal since Valeri’s arrival.
Ryan Johnson, 5 – Was kept pretty quiet by a very, very good AIK backline. Was making all the right runs, however, and nearly logged an assist to Valeri at the end of the first half.
Frederic Piquionne, 5.5 – A much better outing than against FC Dallas, but was overshadowed by Jose Valencia – which is ultimately the reason his trial is likely to end in failure.
Jose Valencia, 6.5 – He only played 6 minutes plus stoppage? Remarkably influential. Once he gets a little bit more of his finishing confidence back, Valencia is going to be a handful off the bench. Forget about more forward trialists. The Timbers have found their third rotation forward.
Onward, Rose City!