The Portland Timbers controlled play for much of last night's 3-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in reserve league play but were unable to finish their chances despite out-shooting the 'Quakes 21 to 5 The game took place in a crowded Jeld-Wen Field as some beautiful weather and a GroupOn deal on tickets brought families in droves to the game. I had the chance to watch the game, it was my first reserve match since early in the season, and will share some of my observations here.
The Timbers held the previous record for attendance at a MLS reserve league match with 10077 coming ot see the Timbers take on the Vancouver Whitecaps last season. Last night the Timbers blew their own record out of the water with 14,121 fans packed in to Jeld Wen.The atmosphere was certainly less lively without the usual TA spectacle to keep things going, but the fans who were there did manage to make some noise throughout the night with a particularly loud roar meeting Brent Richards' tying goal in the first half.
The turnout really was hugely impressive. For reference, 14,121 is more people than four MLS teams have averaged for their first team games this season.
More thoughts on last night's reserve match after the jump.
There was a moment early on in the match when Palmer got the ball at the top of the box and it seemed like the entire stadium was holding its breath while he stepped in for a shot. The shot was low, controlled, and went just wide to the relief of San Jose's back up keeper Evan Newton.
Since it has become widely accepted that this season is a wash (except the Cascadia Cup!), Palmer has had the abuse heaped on him. Not that people were kind before, or that his performances were not bad, but watching the game today it almost seemed like the assembled fans were waiting for him to just rip a shot into the MAC balcony rather than rooting for him to put one in the back of the net.
What I saw out there from Palmer, however, was not somebody who looked like they were going to play the fool. With the reserves playing a similar style to the first team, Lovel took on a similar role to Diego Chara, the roving destroyer and player of short passes, and did so effectively. Despite his (maybe a little more than) occasional ball watching or missed mark, Palmer is a solid tackler and a superlative athlete who has some deceptively good dribbling skills that he rarely was able to put on display when playing at right back.
Palmer was playing tonight like his livelihood depended on it. He covered ground, cleaned up his teammates mistakes, and was a big part of why San Jose was out-shot by a ratio of 4:1. It might not be enough to save his place with the Timbers or Timbers fans, but he will land on his feet somewhere and we should hope that he is more like James Marcelin than Adam Moffat in the pantheon of ex-Timbers defensive midfielders.
Pablo Di Fiori
A player who likes to slow things down, hold up play, and pick out the perfect pass and who seems capable of doing all those things, Di Fiori was invisible for much of the evening's match with the Timbers reserves. Lining up primarily on the left in the Timbers' 4-3-3 formation, Di Fiori was never quite able to get on the same page as the rest of the team.
His speed of play, while it might work with a different line up, was a serious impediment to the rest of the team. With Ryan Kawulok behind him rearing to get forward and Brent Richards ready to push the play with some fancy footwork and inexact passing ahead, Di Fiori did not have a single like minded player to link up with and it took him out of the game.
Di Fiori is only on trial with the Timbers and already he is a divisive figure among the fan base. People have used him as an example of the misplaced scouting of team and a dig on Gavin Wilkinson, but to do so is disingenuous. Assuming Wilkinson is being accurate in his press statements after practice this week, Di Fiori is a player that was being offered to the Timbers rather than one that they went after. On the other side of the coin are the folks who want the Timbers to find a central play-maker and to sign him yesterday, somebody who can make things happen with a cutting pass rather than the many masters of the dribble that the team currently employs.
I feel as though I often find myself talking about this kid's quality. He has oodles of it. If only he was not so dang small.
If I am talking about his talent a lot it is just because he has it and passion for the game to boot.
Many people, myself included, have wondered why Steve Purdy, who gets called up by El Salvador (a national team that is not all that bad) regularly, cannot even find himself in the 18 let alone on the pitch. Well, the answer was apparent against San Jose. Well, they say that you should bookend each negative thing you say with two positive things...
Purdy's defensive work is darn good. He was asked to fill in on the left for much of the game and was rarely cough out of position or was beaten on the dribble. It happened, but not too badly. Unfortunately, each time that Purdy would win the ball from San Jose, he would give it right back to them in the form of an ill conceived or ill executed pass, mostly attempted chips over the defense for players to run onto. Purdy's heading, however, was a different thing entirely. When Purdy was heading the ball he was more accurate than he ever was with his feet and added another strong body to the Timbers already formidable aerial presence.
Did you go to the game yesterday? Share your thoughts in the comments below.