The Portland Timbers slugged it out with the San Jose Earthquakes today as both teams fought to keep their hopes alive, but it was the Timbers who emerged from the hard-fought match victorious after a pair of late goals gave them the 2-1 win.
The match's first half saw both sides pressing forward in search of the opening goal. Although the Timbers' controlled the overwhelming bulk of possession, the run of play stayed even with both teams creating scoring chances. The Timbers had the best opportunities of the half, but two excellent saves from Jon Busch stopped a Darlington Nagbe volley and a Liam Ridgewell header from opening the scoreline.
With both sides needing three points, the second half continued the back and forth battle and opened play up even more. In the second half, however, the Timbers pushed forward even harder, sacrificing their possession advantage of the swift attacks on the break that have served them well this year.
While the Timbers pressed forward, however, they left themselves vulnerable at the back and, in the 56', were made to pay.
Holding the ball on the Timbers' right flank, Shea Salinas found time to scoop a high cross into the Timbers box toward Chris Wondolowski. Although he was sandwiched between centerback Liam Ridgewell and fullback Jorge Villafana, Wondo won the ball and snapped a header on goal. Donovan Ricketts was on hand for the block, but he could not hold the close-range shot.
With the ball bouncing in the box, Wondo again beat Ridgewell and Villafana to the ball, this time slotting the ball coolly home around Ricketts.
After the Earthquakes went up, the match started to take on a more frenetic quality, with the Earthquakes fouling judiciously and taking their time when possible, while the Timbers struggled to get the ball going and establish their attacking rhythm.
Eventually the Timbers found that rythym, putting increasing pressure on San Jose.
In the 71', the Timbers finally broke through. Alvas Powell started the move, bringing the ball down the Timbers' right and, rather than driving to the end line, pulled up and played a simple pass to Rodney Wallace in the box. With a touch away from goal, Wallace created space for himself away from the San Jose defenders and turned to rip a rocked shot on goal.
As the ball left Wallace's foot, it clipped off a diving defender, but continued on with power, arching up and over the already diving Busch and into the back of the net to tie the game.
Not content with a tie, the Timbers kept their pressure up, going for a game winning goal.
Three minutes later that goal came. After some industry from Villafana earned the Timbers a corner, the Timbers brought their big men forward into the San Jose box, a gambit that had come close to paying off earlier in the match. Gaston Fernandez swung in the corner and it was Ridgewell that got to the ball, putting a hard header in the general direction of the goal.
The somewhat near post shot was undoubtedly going wide, but for the presence of Wallace. Ridgewell's header caromed off the Timbers' goalscorer and, completely wrong-footing Busch, tucked just inside the far post to give the Timbers the lead.
Now with the lead in their control, the Timbers began to sit back and work to contain the San Jose attack, who were pressing forward with a renewed vigor. Playing pragmatically, the Timbers frustrated San Jose at every turn, eventually leading to a baffling flying tackle from fullback Pablo Pintos on Rodney Wallace.
Although Wallace appeared to have gotten through the incident without lasting effect, he did spend some time on the ground holding his knee. Pintos received a red card for his efforts and will miss the second match up between the two teams on Wednesday.