RECAP: Portland Timbers Lift the Curse

USA TODAY Sports

Portland went into one of the toughest environments in MLS and came away with three points. They did so by coming from behind twice in the first half and finally taking the lead in the second half.

This game was going to be the toughest test for the new look Portland Timbers. Sporting Kansas City came into this game without giving up a goal at home and having only lost 5 times in 37 home games. They lead the Eastern Conference and every expert had them winning the game. Added to all this was Portland's previous season road record and that Portland came out wearing their seemingly cursed white kits.

Within the first minute, 40 seconds to be exact, Portland proved the curse and the pundits' analysis to be true. Almost right away Sporting earned a throw in deep in Timbers' territory. The ensuing throw in by Matt Besler was thrown on a rope right to the head of Chance Meyers. Who scored his first career MLS goal, what is with the Timbers and allowing players to open their scoring account?

The early goal did not even faze the Timbers. Three minutes later, after a great passing sequence, Diego Valeri's chip over Jimmy Nielsen rattled the crossbar and if it wasn't for a last ditch effort by Aurelien Collin to clear the ball Will Johnson would have knocked in the equalizer. The chances didn't end there but they were few and far between over the next 20 minutes.

One thing that Rodney Wallace does that very few other Timber players are willing to do is shoot from distance. In the 23rd minute the high pressure forced a turnover and Darlington Nagbe played the ball wide to Wallace. Near the corner of the box Wallace uncorked one and it took a great save by Nielsen to palm the ball wide for a corner.

In 2011 the Timbers were King Midas on set pieces, this year not so much. A lot of that could be placed on the service provided, especially on the corners, by Valeri as most of them have not gotten past or over the first defender. This time, however, Valeri's corner did make it to a dangerous spot, namely Ryan Johnson's head. Johnson quick jumped all of the Sporting defenders and hit the ball far post and into the net for the equalizer.

Portland did not get to savor their goal for long though because four minutes later they gave up another goal on a set piece. This time it was a play drawn up at training that exposed Portland's defense. Jack Jewsbury failed to follow his man to top of the box, which forced Wallace to close him down. Wallace's man was Chance Meyers and the secondary ball was laid off to him and he easily ran right past Futty Danso for his second of the night.

It was a total breakdown by multiple individuals and something that needs to be addressed soon. Portland's defense might be as porous as scoria but thankfully their offense is more than potent enough to neutralize the defense. The offense is especially deadly when a CB is out of position.

In the 33rd minute Portland had closed down all the passing lanes when Colin received the ball in the center circle. Not able to find a place to unload the ball he did his best David Horst impression and dribbled into Portland's half. After finally finding a teammate he passed the ball off only to have that teammate pass it right back to him. Will Johnson closed him down and intercepted his second attempt to get rid of the ball.

At this point Colin is 25 yards into the Timbers' half and is now scrambling to recover. He almost recovered the ball but the ball ends up at the feet of Wallace who finds Portland's playmaker and Valeri knows exactly what to do with it. Valeri's through ball to Ryan Johnson was perfectly timed and weighted to hit him in stride.

Johnson sprinted into the box and forced Nielsen to come off his line before he hit a square ball to Nagbe. The ball was slightly behind were Nagbe expected it to be and he had to perform an acrobatic jump to put his foot behind the ball to poke it into the net. It was not the prettiest shot but it was effective.

Portland twice came from behind to equalize against a good Sporting Kansas City team and they went to half tied at 2.

Second Half

Portland must have either learned something from San Jose or were confused about who they were playing as they were the more physical team throughout the night. It was no different in the second half as Ryan Johnson and company continually made sure Sporting felt the presence of the Portland's players and feared them.

The physicality coupled with the high pressure disrupted Sporting's offense and rhythm. In essence Portland out sported Sporting and it worked to their advantage in the 58th minute. The high first line forced CJ Sapong, who was nonexistent for most of the game, to make an errant pass right to Diego Chara. Chara, with a Sporting player on his back like Superman's cape, kept his feet under him and hit a perfect through ball to Wallace.

Wallace did everything you are supposed to do when you are 1v1 with the keeper. He attacked with confidence and forced Nielsen to go to ground and then calmly slotted the ball right past him for the go ahead goal. The whole sequence is something we might become accustomed to seeing with Caleb Porter at the helm.

Portland is comfortable playing down a goal and they have the confidence that they can score. However the confidence has yet to transition to the defensive side of the ball, they seem fearful they will give up the goal. The only game they have looked comfortable with the lead is against Houston and even then they had their moments.

This game was like the last two games against San Jose. Slowly but surely Portland conceded possession and space to the opposition until they bunkered. Portland went from 54% possession to 49% by the end of the game and it was all due to Portland just stopping what they had done the first 60 mins of the game.

30 minutes is just too long to let a team throw everything at you in hopes of getting the equalizer. If the equalizer comes it is also hard to stem the bleeding. One reason the Timbers and Caleb Porter were able to see this game out was due to the Donovan Ricketts.

Time and time again Ricketts was called upon to either make a save or to come off his line punch or grab a cross. None other was bigger than another Save of the Week candidate save in the 91st minute. Seth Sinovic curled the ball into the box where Aurelien Colin, fighting off Mikael Silvestre, was able to hit his header on frame. The ball looked destined to go into the back of the net but Ricketts fully extended his large frame and pushed the ball wide of the net.

The lone bright spot over the final minutes of the game had to be the play of Frederic Piquionne. When Piqi came on the savy vet knew exactly what to do with the ball. He took his chances, almost hit a curling far post shot to ice the game, but it was his ability to hold up the ball, keep possession and take time off of the clock that helped his team earn the three points.

Observations

  • Let's take care of the good stuff: Portland is currently third in the west and 6th in the league.
  • Portland has scored in every game they have played
  • Portland is unbeaten on the road this year and they have played @SKC, @Colorado, @Seattle and @San Jose.
  • Portland's road goal differential is +1, last year for the year they were -25 which means they need to give up 26 more goals than they score over they next 13 road games to equal that mark.
  • They have earned 6 points on the road this year in 4 games. Last year it took 14 games.
  • This is their first road win when they have given up a goal, all other road wins were 1-0.
  • Let's now bring down our high so we can "keep our highs low and our lows high": We bunkered for almost 30 minutes
  • Portland were out possessed by SKC on the night.
  • It is only April and there is still a lot more soccer to be played.
  • Portland has given up a goal in all but 2 of their games.
  • CP needs to find someone to pair with Silvestre, hopefully it is AJB
  • Harrington made up for his sub par performance against SJ.
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