In the postgame press conference, Caleb Porter was asked if his defense was good enough to consistently earn three points. His answer was “Yes. Yes.” Whether he’s right or not will go a long way toward determining where the Timbers finish this season.
The defense was breathtakingly bad in the first half.
The comedy of errors began in the ninth minute. After Will Johnson cleared a free kick from close in on the Red Bulls’ right wing, New York sent the ball back into the box, where it found the feet of Fabian Espindola. The debutante was wrestled off the ball, but as Mikael Silvestre tapped back to Donovan Ricketts, the Jamaican bobbled the back pass, allowing Espindola to fire into an open net.
Just as they did against San Jose two weeks earlier, however, the Timbers came right back. Silvestre almost found the equalizer a minute after the concession when a corner kick bounced around the box and found his foot, but his low shot bent just wide of the post.
The Red Bulls wouldn’t be so fortunate in the 14th minute. After Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson worked the ball to Kalif Alhassan at the top of the box, the Ghanaian found an onrushing Diego Valeri on the left side of the box. Valeri juggled magnificently past the Red Bulls defense, and slotted into the far post with the outside of his right foot.
The Timbers struggled to get in rhythm, however, and found themselves on the bad end of another embarrassing mishap again in the 24th minute. After Kosuke Kimura sent a barely hopeful long ball forward on the Red Bulls right wing, Silvestre took a swing and miss at the vertical pass. As a result, it fell to Espindola with a one on one against Ricketts, who couldn’t muster the heroics to keep the scoreline even.
A bad situation got worse four minutes later, as Johnson again cleared a corner only to have it fall for Ruben Bover Izquierdo. Bover found Heath Pearce on the byline, who sent the ball all the way across the face of goal where Jamison Olave easily tapped home.
The Timbers began to settle into their offense from there, and dominated the ball for much of the rest of the half, but couldn’t pull one back before the break.
Portland came out firing in the second half, however. In the 47th minute, Valeri got out on the break and found Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the field. Nagbe found Ryan Johnson, who had beat Kimura on the left side of the box, but Johnson’s mouth-watering look at goal resulted only in a shot soaring over the bar.
In the 55th minute, the Timbers continued their absurd tradition of being wrongfully denied penalties. An out-swinging Valeri corner found the feet of Andrew Jean-Baptiste, but AJB’s stab was cleared after it was substantially hindered when Pearce took him down wrestling-style from behind.
The Valeri-Nagbe-Alhassan combination paid off again a minute later, however. After Michael Harrington and Nagbe worked the ball centrally for Alhassan, he again found Valeri in the middle of the loose Red Bulls defense. No New Yorker came to pick him up, so Valeri took a crack form the top of the box, but Luis Robles parried away. Nagbe was right there to clean up, however, as he cued the bouncing rebound into the net.
In the 65th minute Thierry Henry almost put an early end to the drama when he got loose off of a weak Jean-Baptiste clearance, but Ricketts was there this time to palm away and out of danger.
After having their way with New York in the second half, the Timbers finally drew level in the 83rd minute. Rodney Wallace did well to win a ball, and Nagbe took possession and ran into the dull, gapped teeth of the Red Bulls defense. After Robles had to palm away Nagbe’s swerving shot, Jose Valencia gathered on the byline and sent a hard cross across the face of goal. Trencito’s Will Johnson-bound cross was intercepted by Olave, but the Colombian could clear only as far as the back of the net.
From there, Ryan Johnson had two wonderful chances to send the Timbers home with three points, but couldn’t quite convert either. In the 90th minute Valeri gathered the ball at the top of the box and beautifully lobbed it to Johnson on the left side. Johnson one-timed it with his left foot, but Robles made a tremendous save diving to his left to rob Johnson of a sure winner.
In the third minute of stoppage time Johnson almost made himself a legend again. After Valeri got head to Silvestre’s cross and popped the ball into the air, Johnson, with his back toward goal, bicycled it toward the net, but it sailed just wide of the near post.
The fight back from the Timbers was tremendous, and something the Timbers Army haven’t seen at Jeld-Wen Field for quite some time.
The offense looks like it is going to be one of the best in MLS. The combination of Diego Valeri, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and Kalif Alhassan is working impossibly well at times. For the first time, the Timbers appear to have an offense that is both very well designed and coached.
But it won’t be the offense that decides the Timbers’ season. They’ll score goals in bunches. To date, however, they’re also conceding them in bunches. The goals against count the same whether they’re off of discrete mistakes or a result of thorough domination.
Twice, now, in three Timbers first team home games, they’ve dominated the game, scored a trio of goals, but been denied the result the offense deserved by isolated, but serious, defensive mistakes.
The question to Porter, then, was not about “stirring the pot,” as the coach suggested during and after the press conference. Rather, it is the question that will determine whether the Timbers are a 30 point team or a 50 point team. In other words, it’s the question that will decide the season. And, if the prickliness of Porter’s response is any indication, it may also be the question he goes to sleep asking himself.
Donovan Ricketts, 3 – Not much he could be expected to do on the second concession, but bears some culpability on the first and third. On the first, while Silvestre didn’t help him by sending him an awkward back pass, Ricketts’s half-effort to bend down and pick it up rather than boot it is mind boggling considering it would have been a handball. On the third, Ricketts was slow to go to ground, and let a dangerous ball come across his box two yards in front of goal.
Ryan Miller, 4.5 – Sort of a quiet night from Miller. Most of the worst defense was on the left side, but was a little bit off in the attack.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 6 – Shares a good serving culpability for the third concession, as Olave was his mark and AJB lost him. Nonetheless, he won a ton of balls on Sunday, and cleaned up a couple Silvestre messes in the first half.
Mikael Silvestre, 2 – A disastrous first half that need not be rehashed here. Brought his grade up a couple points with a solid second half, although he really didn’t have that much to do considering the Timbers’ dominance.
Michael Harrington, 5.5 – A decent, if perhaps quiet, outing for Harrington. Contributed a little bit more to the attack than Miller, and was decent defensively. The big problems were caused when he got caught upfield a little bit, but that’s more a systemic issue than a Harrington issue.
Diego Chara, 6.5 – Whereas Diego Valeri gets all the glamour work, Diego Chara does the dirty work. Won any number of balls in the midfield – something that is absolutely vital to keeping pressure off the fledgling backline – and completed an absurd 69 of 73 passes.
Will Johnson, 6 – Really solid night from Will. Had a couple threatening shots, but made most of his impact in the midfield where he, along with Chara, put in a hardworking effort.
Darlington Nagbe, 6.5 – A tale of two halves for Darlington. Nagbe was a little bit passive in the first half, but came out in the second half a whole new man. In some ways, was a little unlucky to only come away with one tally.
Diego Valeri, 8.5 – Tremendous. Simply tremendous. Was the best player on the field, from his wonderful goal to the constant threat he posed to New York’s backline.
Kalif Alhassan, 6 – Had some frustrating moments – as Kalif often has – but was an integral part of two vital moments of interchange between he, Nagbe, and Valeri. That’s why Kalif has to stay on the field.
Ryan Johnson, 6 – Active all night and unlucky not to score. Robbed of the winner by Robles once, and almost found it in miraculous fashion with his stoppage time bicycle kick.
Sal Zizzo, 5.5 – Nothing came directly of it, but Sal added a new element to the attack with his pace and ability on the wing that was missing with Miller. Obviously not nearly the defender Miller is, but accomplished exactly what he was put on the field to do.
Jose Valencia, 6.5 – Gets credit for the equalizer not only because he sent in a tough, dangerous cross, but also for gathering the rebound off of Nagbe’s saved shot.
Rodney Wallace, 6 – I about lost it when Rodney came on. And then he went and won the ball that set up the final goal. Shows what I know.
Onward, Rose City!
 For what it’s worth, I loved Porter’s response. It showed confidence in a backline that clearly needs it right now, and also an edge and intensity that the team feeds off of.