Recap: Portland at San Jose

Another Timbers game, another lousy referee.

Quick Recap

Portland returned to the 4-4-2, and Kris Boyd got his first start in a while but left after 15 minutes with a groin strain. Portland struggled to gain any traction offensively but did score a late first half goal and then again in the 62nd minute. Then the Goonies struck back 2-2 Portland tied again on the road.

First Half

Portland returned to the 4-4-2 of early this year with Kris Boyd and Danny Mwanga up front. With this change Portland looked out of sorts offensively and couldn't string more than three passes together in the offensive third. San Jose on the other hand looked like the were the first place team in the west.

Portland did create some chances, the first of which was a header by Boyd just wide of the goal. Unfortunately for Boyd he strained his groin when coming down from the header. This brought on Bright Dike in place of Boyd and changed the dynamic even more than usual.

Added to all the confusion was also the deployment of Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace in positions they don't usually play. Nagbe was forced back out wide, and Wallace took the place of Diego Chara, who, as it turns out, is quite a better distributor than Wallace. Wallace does, however, have decent defensive instincts, which helped shut down some of the attacks the San Jose Earthquakes created.

Nagbe playing out wide forced him to play with little space and much time. With Nagbe and Franck Songo'o not able to create as freely as when the Timbers are in the 4-3-3, San Jose was able to possess the ball far longer than Portland. With the greater possession San Jose had more chances than Portland, even forcing a last ditch clearance off the goal line from David Horst.

With half time approaching Portland was just looking to get to the half still tied. Their attitude changed when Bright Dike was able to get end on the long ball from Lovel Palmer and knocked it to Danny Mwanga. Mwanga played the ball back to Wallace and broke for the goal. Wallace, seeing Mwanga make the run towards goal, first-timed a pass back to Mwanga, who was able to control the ball, take a touch past Jon Busch, and gently push the ball home.

Second Half

Portland started the second half in a much more defensive shell than the first half and looked like they were just going to bunker and defend for the next 45 minutes. As we all know this strategy against a team like San Jose rarely works and to get it to work takes luck -- and Lady Luck is a fickle woman.

With Portland defending, San Jose effortlessly possessed the ball for long periods of time but were unable to crack Portland's defensive bunker. When they came close a defender always seemed to be in the right place at the right time; when they did manage a shot it went right at Joe Bendik.

Fans just got the sense that Portland started hanging on way too early in the game. San Jose was going to break the game open sooner or later, and then the goals would start pouring in. About the time I resigned myself to the fact that Portland was going to lose this game Mwanga struck again. Portland's counters had be ineffective up until the 62nd minute and this one was only effective because someone was able to hit a long range shot.

The goal reminded me of Kenny Cooper's away goal at Vancouver last year. Songo'o had a terrific run through the middle of the field and could have been dispossessed on a couple of occasions but fought through the challenges. Once he was able to shake the last tackle Songo'o feed the ball wide to Mwanga who took a couple of touches and blasted the ball far post past a diving Busch.

Of course, 2-0 against a team who has scored 7 or so goals during stoppage time this year is never a commanding lead. Nor is it a good thing when the league's leading goal scorer comes off the bench to go after the tired legs of Portland's defenders. This all led to Portland putting 11 men behind the ball and clearing it only to the back line of San Jose from the 70th minute on.

In the 73rd minute Chris Wondolowski found the ball at his feet with only Bendik in front of him and easily put the ball past him for the first goal. From that point on Portland was just trying to hold on, very rarely actually pushing the ball past midfield. When they did, the ball would get caught in Dike's feet or someone would misplay the ball and San Jose would immediately be back on the attack.

There are so many chances to recount I don't know where to start so I will just say there were numerous last ditch efforts by defenders and Bendik to keep Portland up one heading into stoppage time. In stoppage time Wondo struck again, but this time it was on a failed header from Mosco, who tried to clear the ball away but instead flicked it to the far post right to Wondo.

In the end Portland deserved the tie as they didn't play well enough to win.

Observations

  • The Referee lost control of the game, and it showed after the game with all the scuffles.
  • Wondo acted like San Jose just tied the MLS Cup up and acted like a prima-donna.
  • The 4-4-2 formation stifles any creativity Portland's players have, especially when you play the creative players on the wings where they have no room to create.
  • Wallace filled in nicely defensively but has even less offensive skill in the CM position than Chara
  • Bendik's first start was good one -- too bad he couldn't get the Timber's first road win along with his first MLS start
  • Great to see Brunner out there, but his sub baffled me as I doubt Portland has ever practiced or game planned for him to the be in a CDM-like role. Too much confusion out there in the last 10 mins.
  • If only Mosco had not gone up for that header.
  • I think it is time to start giving Fucito some time instead of Dike. Dike just does not have the skills yet and it showed again tonight.
  • Too bad Mwanga can't play against San Jose every night -- he has 3 goals in 2 games against them.
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