Recap: Portland Timbers play the role of Union Busters

Quick Recap:

The Portland Timbers come out strong but don't hit their stride until the Second Half and a wake-up call after going down 1. Portland were galvanized instead of hanging their heads and end up with a dominant win 3-1.

First Half:

Portland really came out like they meant to take the game to the Philadelphia Union and almost immediately attacked the Union down the wings. The final ball just was not there or the wings held the ball just a touch to long. Portland continued to apply the pressure for the first 10 minutes but only had 2 shots, with one from Eric Alexander requiring an acrobatic save that still almost found the far post but curled just outside. The subsequent corner was easily cleared by Philadelphia.

Defensively Portland had some moments when they gave the ball up too easily and allowed Philadelphia to counter, and with our fullbacks out of position the team had to scramble. Despite the sometimes panicky defense, Philadelphia never challenged Troy Perkins early. The game's first controversial play occurred in the 9th Minute. Jorge Perlaza won a 50/50 ball and got in front of Danny Califf, who immediatley grabbed Perlaza's shoulder and shirt to pull him down from behind. It should have been an obvious call, but Baldomero "No Call" Toledo waved at Perlaza to get up and play continued. Even the impartial ESPN announcers said it was an obvious penalty kick.

Portland did not hang their heads, and they did not let Toledo affect their play and continued to attack down the wings. Alexander and Kalif Alhassan gave Philadelphia fits but despite the great attacking runs by our wings, the final ball was just not there. Missed passes and crosses started to occur all over the pitch. At one point Kalif, while trying to hit Palmer with a pass, hit it right to a Philadelphia player who then immediately turned up the field and attacked. Almost a minute later the same thing happened again. Kalif wasn't the only one doing this as all of Portland's players seemed to catch the fever and started spraying their passes all over the place.

Fortunately almost all of these guffaws occurred in the offensive end and Eric Brunner or Andrew Jean-Baptiste were able to put out any fires. Even with all the missed passes Portland did have their chances and Kris Boyd was party to a few of them, like in the 20th minute when Boyd was on the end of a long ball over the defense, but Zac MacMath was able to get off his line and block the long range shot out for a throw-in.

The scariest moment of the match came in the 24th minute when Boyd and Carlos Valdes hit heads when both went for a header. Valdes got the worst of it and spent a couple of minutes on the ground while Kris Boyd checked his head for blood and jumped up and walked away. Scottish heads are harder than rocks.

From that point on both teams struggled in the attack and did not get a shot off for the rest of the half. With Portland's strong start it seemed like they would take it to Philadelphia, but their customary last 10 minute fade kicked in and Philadelphia seemed to gain in confidence. In spite of the swing in momentum both teams went into the half tied at 0-0.

Some surprising first half stats: Possession 54.7% possession, 75.4 passing accuracy, and 232 total passes.

Second Half:

Portland came out with energy again at the start of the half, and they found themselves in dangerous positions but again could not hit that final ball. The lack of quality in the final third came back to bite the Timbers. A arguably weak foul was called on Jack Jewsbury 40 yards away from goal to set up a set-piece opportunity for the Union and they took advantage of it.

Gabriel Gomez hit a long ball into the box, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste had the ball just skip off his head and into the net. Officially they gave the goal to Gomez but in reality it was an own goal. In the previous 13 games in which Portland had conceded the first goal they had never come back to win. Last year Portland would have really had a tough time mentally after conceding the goal. This year it seemed to energize Portland even more.

Portland turned up the energy even more and continued to relentlessly attack Philadelphia and the chances kept getting more and more dangerous. In the end Portland got a gift to get back in the game from MacMath. MacMath loved Kasey Keller so much, he did his best Keller impression (like when Keller through it into his own goal), since Keller was at the game watching. MacMath's blunder turned the game even more in favor of Portland.

Portland's next dangerous chance came just 2 minutes later when Rodney Wallace beat his defender and found himself in the box. He whipped a low cross into the box that bounced off of MacMath and to the feet of Diego Chara, who hit the shot but right at a sprawling MacMath. The following corner was cleared right to Chara who laid it off to Wallace who then hit a great low driven shot that was parried wide for a corner.

The next corner was again cleared right to Chara and he again laid it off to a player, this time Alahassan, who tried to dribble through three players but lost the ball. The Union were unable to keep possession for more than 20 secs and Portland continued to attack. The whole stadium could smell blood and the Portland Timbers were like sharks circling waiting for the feeding frenzy.

The Feeding frenzy got started with a great ball from Eric Alexander to find Alhassan on the wing, and this time Alhassan actually cut the ball back and hit an early cross rather than try and beat his defender. The ball was perfectly hit towards Boyd in position off the back shoulder of Califf. His header looked so smooth and easy, it was a thing of beauty. It was a goal rarely seen last year at JW Field but it is one that we should see a lot this year.

The energy in the crowd and on the field went up another notch and the only thing Philadelphia could to was try and weather the onslaught and catch Portland on the counter. Portland on the other hand continued to apply the pressure. Half chance after half chance occurred and the break through finally came off a quick free quick. Captain Jack played the ball quickly to Alhassan, who beat beat the on rushing defender and attacked the goal. What happened next is up for debate but Alhassan chipped the ball towards the back post and hit the ball into the net.

The debate is if Alhassan meant to shoot or if he hit a cross that just went in. Either way Alhassan finally has his first MLS goal and his first goal as a Timber at home, his other two USL goals coming away from home. The final 10 minutes of the game consisted of Portland killing the game of with possession. Did I just write Portland killed the game off with possession? What a different team Portland has this year.

What a great way to start the season.

Notes:

  • Portland dominated possession for most of the game, which is a welcome change from last year
  • Kalif and Alexander were dangerous going forward and really tracked back well.
  • Our fullbacks were out of position at times in the first half but really attacked well in the second half
  • Did you know Freddy Adu plays for Philadelphia? Wouldn't know it for how little his name was mentioned
  • The Western Conference went 5-1 this weekend against the Eastern Conference and outscored the East 9-3. Leastern Conference?
  • Andre Jean-Baptiste really showed his potential and if he cuts out the little mistakes that Eric Brunner covered up for him he will be a mainstay at the back for Portland
  • No Portland Player had a bad game, which says a lot about the depth of this team as Songo'o and a CB were not available
  • No Cards in this game
  • The Timbers will officially have as high of an attendance as the Blazers.
Look for the Player Ratings and a new feature called Rewatch. With Rewatch one of the writers watches the broadcast again and catches things they missed when they watched it the first time.

What are your thoughts?
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