This game was less about technical skill and more about heart and intensity. The San Jose Earthquakes are very difficult to play against because they are such a physical team and try to beat you into submission.
As Caleb Porter put it, "They're a team that fights ... they've got a group of guys that rolls up their sleeves and fights." A fight is an apt description of how the first half of Sunday's game looked.
The Portland Timbers played the pass and move style of soccer we have been blessed to see early in this season. In response San Jose put a body on every Timber they could and as often as they could, in hopes it would disrupt the Timbers' rhythm. Needless to say, it didn't work, as the Timbers gave like for like.
Not backing down from the fight, the Timbers were able to settle into the possession with purpose. They racked up 268 completed passes in the first half with an 80%+ accuracy, but they only created one shot on target, with San Jose continually dropping 8 men behind the ball and clogging the passing lanes.
When the Timbers were without the ball, which was quite rare in the first half, they were winning the aerial duels they needed to win, and Diego Chara was sneaking up on people and pickpocketing them, all of which frustrated the Quakes players to no end. With neither offense clicking the teams played to a nil-nil draw in the first half.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first half, and if it had continued for the full 45 minutes the game would have more than likely ended 0-0. Portland still had all the possession but was still missing the quality needed on the final ball into the box.
The Quakes' frustration mounted.
In the 69th minute Alan Gordon, already on a yellow card after a reckless, cleats-up challenge on Chara late in the first half, went up for a running, elbows-out header against Mikael Silvestre. His left elbow tagged Silvestre's face and dropped him to the ground. Silvestre jumped up immediately and, with blood flowing from his split lip, confronted Gordon, who appeared genuinely frightened by the Frenchman.
After consulting his assistant referee, and possibly even the replay on the big screen, he awarded Gordon his second yellow and gave him his marching orders. The sad thing is that this was not Gordon's worse offense of the night. Ten minutes earlier the camera and Will Johnson caught Gordon using a homophobic slur, which will almost certainly earn him an additional three-game suspension.
Once San Jose was down to 10 men Portland really pinned the Earthquakes deep in their own end. With all the possession occurring between San Jose's box and the center circle, San Jose could only pack it in and hope for a gritty draw. San Jose might have gotten away with a point if they had not conceded a free kick in the 78th minute.
The free kick was 25 yards out and right in the middle of the pitch. In previous games this would have been Valeri's shot all the way, but with him out due to a concussion it was up to Captain Will Johnson. Will admitted after the match that he had made a special point to practice his free kicks in training this week, and it certainly paid off. He hit the ball just over the wall and it curled away from the fully outstretched Jon Busch into the back of the net.
- We have seen the Timbers win with precision passing and a lot of combination play, and we have now seen the Timbers win by punching a bully in the mouth.
- Futty Danso was a beast and a perfect foil for Gordon and Steven Lenhart
- Silvestre is a General in the back.
- Will Johnson is my favorite player. As many have said before, I would love to play with but would hate to play against.
- Porter had a premonition about Will's free kick and texted him about putting one in.
- Portland is now over .500 for the first time since April of 2011.
- Alan Gordon has already issued a statement on his homophobic slur.
- Rodney Wallace is pure class, as he showed his support for Kevin Alston with a get well wish on his undershirt.
- Now they need to win on the road to exorcise all of the 2012 demons.