This was the last east coast trip for the Portland Timbers and probably the last time Portland would have to play in heat plus humidity. Added to this was the fact that Portland's few defensive weaknesses were the Philadelphia Union's offensive strengths. It was a recipe for disaster, especially if Portland played like they had in their previous road game.
The start of the game was nothing like their previous road game. You could see an immediate difference in the energy and the focus of the team. The possession was purposeful; they moved the ball from side to side and changed the point of attack frequently. Defensively they were just as focused and you could see they had done their homework on Conor Casey and Jack McInerny.
Portland's early possession unfortunately did not lead to any solid chances early in the game but it did signal their intent to force the Union to adjust to their style of play. Philly was not going to go quietly into the night and they found the one weak link in Portland's defense, Jack Jewsbury's lack of pace. They exploited this weakness by consistently playing the ball to Danny Cruz and letting him go at Jewsbury with pace.
When Jewsbury did get beat his defensive line mates and goal keeper were more than willing to help by quickly smothering any chance Cruz created. Portland did have their chances on the other end of the field but when they were able to get off a shot it was right at Zac McMath and it made him look like a great goalkeeper.
Donovan Ricketts was not going to be outshone by a young whippersnapper and he came up huge on two occasions in the second half. The first was Cruz who used his speed to get behind the defense but the ball was just too far away. Ricketts read the play got to the ball first and stood his ground as Cruz tried to tackle the ball away. In the end the ball went out for a goal kick.
The second once again involved Cruz was on a difficult shot by Cruz that bounced just in front of him and was curling away but Ricketts was able to get a big paw on the ball and palmed it away from danger.
The second half was delayed by 30 minutes due to rain.... Well, not just rain but thunderstorms. The delay affected the Timbers more than it affected the Union as it interrupted the rhythm Portland had established in the first half.
Portland's best chance, probably their only quality chance, came in the 54th minute. After the initial attack was thwarted and cleared to the top of the box Will Johnson collected the ball and dribbled into the box. Once he blew by two Union defenders he hit a square ball to Diego Valeri with his back to the goal. A great first touch and then a quick turn gave him just enough space to get the shot off but it was right at McMath.
The Union's best chance was created by the physical play of Conor Casey. Conor received the benefit of the doubt from Ricard Salazar as he crashed into the back of Pa Madou Kah. This allowed the ball to bounce deeper into Portland's half and under duress Michael Harrington was only able clear the ball with a header. The ball was brought down with a chest trap by McInerny and he volleyed the ball wide to a crashing Casey. His half volley shot was a rocket and was headed to the near post's upper V. Before it ended up in the back of the net Tall P made a great reaction save to push the ball wide of the goal.
Over the last 10 minutes of the game the Union pressed for the game winner and only some timely defending earned the Portland Timbers the road point. At the final whistle the game would end the same way it started, with a nil-nil score line.
- After a solid game against the Galaxy Club Captain Jack Jewsbury was abused by Cruz. His passing was less than stellar and at times killed attacks or set up quick counters.
- Diego Chara was missed in the second half. Zemanski was a decent fill in but this game was tailor made for his style of game.
- Last year I, most likely all of you too, cringed whenever Ricketts was forced into making a save to ensure Portland earned a result. Now we always expect him to. Amazing.
- When I first found out the referee assignment I was admittedly worried. However this was probably the best game I have seen Salazar ref since the Portland vs Seattle game last year.
- This might be a frustrating tie but earning a point on the road is always a positive.