The Portland Timbers met FC Dallas on Saturday with a handful of streaks going: a 12-game unbeaten streak in league play (14 in all competitions), a home shutout streak of 390 minutes, and an unbeaten streak when facing league leaders at home. They kept them all going.
Dallas got the action started with the first shot on goal. Jackson crossed the ball to Fabian Castillo, who headed it down towards the goal. His header was on frame, but it bounced right into the waiting hands of Donovan Ricketts.
Though they got off to a promising start, things started to look bad for Dallas after just seven minutes of play, when Eric Hassli suddenly lay down on the field. Hassli appeared to have hurt his back on a seemingly harmless play and was unable to play on. Having lost Kenny Cooper earlier that day when he returned to Dallas to deal with a family emergency, Dallas had no other strikers. They sent in midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson and simply played without a true forward, a la Spain for much of the 2012 Euros, except in this case it brought Dallas the same number of goals as they had strikers.
In desperate need of a boost, Dallas immediately went in search of an early goal. In the 10th minute David Ferreira stripped Pa Modou Kah of the ball inside the Timbers' box, forcing Ricketts to come off his line for the stop.
With that scare behind them, the Timbers started to find their rhythm. Their passes were connecting, the high pressure was causing Dallas to cough up the ball or boot it out of bounds, and they were getting their chances on goal. In the 15th minute, Michael Harrington's cross sailed over Frederic Piquionne, but Diego Valeri met it at the far post. His header bounced on the ground and off of the crossbar. Not long after, Will Johnson found Darlington Nagbe with a perfect through-ball, but a heavy touch from Nagbe carried the ball over the end line.
The Timbers got their best chance of the first half after Zach Loyd grabbed Alhassan's jersey and tugged him to the ground. Johnson found Futty Danso at the far post on the ensuing free kick, but his header looked to be going wide and was cleared away by Benitez, who only got the ball as far as Diego Chara. With Raul Fernandez out of goal following the initial scramble to beat Futty to the ball, Chara's shot looked destined to be the opening goal. Fernandez somehow got back in net just in time to stop the shot, but spilled the ball right in front of goal. Kah appeared to get a touch, but it wasn't enough to get it past the Dallas center backs and keeper who were all converging on the ball at the same time.
For a few minutes after that chance, the game really opened up. Dallas took off for the other end of the field, where Watson forced Ricketts into a save at the near post. Then it was right back the other way with a shot from Johnson that Fernandez just managed to push wide. And that is when the trouble broke out.
Piquionne chased down the rebound and scuffled a little with Matt Hedges for the ball. Benitez came racing up to kick the ball out for a corner. Then he kicked the Timbers forward in the shin, just for good measure. Piquionne stepped toward Benitez and appeared to be asking him something along the lines of "What the hell are you doing?" when Benitez very obviously headbutted him. Though the lineman was waving his flag frantically, the incident didn't earn Benitez a card. The ref gave both Piquionne and Benitez a talking to and then allowed the Timbers to take the corner, which was headed wide by Futty.
Perhaps due to the frustration of the no-call on what likely should have been a red card, the Timbers let Dallas push forward more and the half wound down. In the second minute of stoppage time, Jackson let a powerful shot rip from outside the box and only an outstanding save from Ricketts kept the score level. The corner that followed was headed wide, and with that the first half came to a close.
The second half was barely under way when the ref began awarding the first of a few questionable free kicks, as Jackson was bumped by Harrington and went down as if taken out by sniper fire. Before Dallas took their free kick, the Timbers made their first substitution of the match, sending Andrew Jean-Baptiste in for Futty, whose hamstring appeared to be bothering him. It's always nervy to send a new center back into the game right before a set piece, but the free kick was straight to Ricketts.
It all finally came together for the Timbers in the 52nd minute. The Timbers earned a throw-in, which Harrington put in play for Johnson. The captain passed it quickly back for Harrington who in turn passed it off for Alhassan who found Nagbe in the box. As Nagbe got caught with his back to goal, it looked like it might all amount to nothing, but Nagbe, as any Timbers fan knows, is capable of magic. Nagbe turned and, before he was actually facing the goal, fired, sending the ball curling in at the far post. Finally, the Timbers had produced a chance that keeper Fernandez had no answer for.
The game started to get a little shakier for the Timbers around the 60th minute. The ref awarded more dangerous free kicks to FC Dallas and the Timbers were struggling to win the second ball in the midfield. Timbers fans were left howling for a card again when Loyd slapped Piquionne in the face, giving him a bloody nose.
Even with things getting sloppier the Timbers almost put up another GOTW candidate when Valeri deftly brought down a ball from Alhassan off his chest and took a quick shot that Fernandez just managed to parry over the bar.
Dallas nearly equalized in the 72nd minute when Jackson picked the ball off Johnson, shook off both center backs and, very luckily for everyone wearing green, shot the ball into the stands.
Chara had two chances to put the game away for the Timbers, the first saved by Fernandez and the second, a one on one with the keeper just two minutes later, rolled wide of the post. In spite of the missed chances, the Timbers managed to shut Dallas out for the remainder of the game, though the final whistle was greeted by relief from the fans and likely the team as well.
- Sending positive thoughts to Kenny Cooper and his family. Here's hoping everything turns out alright. [Update: Big Apple Soccer is reporting that Cooper returned to Dallas because his father had a heart attack.]
- It's easy to see why several mlssoccer.com editors picked Raul Fernandez for their All-Star line-ups. He had such a stellar game that you almost feel bad it wasn't enough to get his team even a point. Almost.
- Alhassan gave us a great example of high pressure yesterday when he began pestering Benitez in the Timbers half and kept at him until he had chased him back at least 30 yards.
- Maybe Chara just needs to learn to think of shooting as passing the ball to the back of the net. I fail to understand how someone who can pass a ball with such precision couldn't even put a shot on frame when he was one on one with keeper. I know it isn't his primary responsibility, but he should be able to do better than that.
- While some Timbers seem rather hesitant in front of goal, Valeri can get shots off faster than I can think. Look at that fantastic shot that Fernandez saved. It's one touch off his chest and then a shot.
- After some discussion on the USOC match thread about Caleb Porter's apparel and the lack of appropriately colored ties, I just thought I'd point out that he wore a very nice tie with green stripes yesterday.
- Really, Taylor Twellman and Adrian Healey? Inadvertent? Really? Most soccer players don't run around waving one arm behind them unless they know there's a player right on their heels chasing them down.
- What is up with the Timbers' walls on free kicks? Against the Chicago Fire the wall didn't even jump and yesterday and least one Dallas free kick split two players in the wall without even changing course.