The Portland Timbers started off the Rose City Invitational today with a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. In a match that started off with promise but devolved into a string of fouls, close calls, and injury scares the Timbers will have to take heart in knowing that they were only inches off for most of the night.
The opening minutes of the match gave the crowd of over 13,000 a beautiful display of passing from the Timbers as they moved the ball around the pitch, uninterrupted, for almost two minutes. The possession was eventually lost when an errant pass caromed off the back of Ben Zemanski and fell to the feet of the Earthquakes. The sequence typified most of the first half as the Timbers held possession and generally looked like the superior team, but failed to convert their aesthetic advantage into goals.
The Timbers' best opportunity of the night came in the 21' when, after a period of sustained pressure on San Jose, the Timbers broke down the pitch with the ball at the feet of Darlington Nagbe. Looking up from his bursting run, Nagbe picked out Maximilliano Urruti in the heart of the Earthquakes' defense and played him in one-on-one with Jon Busch. As Busch closed down on him, Urruti only had time to poke a foot at the ball, hoping it would squirt through Busch and into the net, only to have the Earthquakes' keeper get low and expertly block the shot away.
The Timbers came close to scoring again in first half stoppage time when Fernandez, having taken the ball into the corner, found Nagbe at the side of the box. La Gata sent the ball back to Nagbe and took off on a flat run toward the top of the keeper's box where Nagbe immediately returned the ball to him. From that low angle, Fernandez struck a hard, curling shot, trying to beat Busch at the far post, but Busch dove across the face of the goal and was able to parry the ball away and out of danger.
The Timbers' inability to open the scoring came back to bite them in the 24', when pressure from the San Jose forwards caused Jack Jewsbury to give up a corner kick. The Earthquakes swung a high ball across the box where it was headed back across the face of goal by Clarence Goodson. With Donovan Ricketts scrambling to recover his positioning and Steven Lenhart closing on the ball, Norberto Paparatto had no choice but to try to head the ball away. Instead of clearing the danger, however, he was only able to put the ball into the back of the net, opening the scoring for San Jose.
The second half started with a tinge of desperation for the Timbers as the team continued pushing forward but could not break down the packed in San Jose defense. After an action packed first half with nine shots for the Timbers, the attempts kept coming, but a goal continued to elude the team. Although Fernandez had several finessed shots on goal, Busch was equal to each of them. As the minutes ticked away in the half, the Timbers found themselves fractions of an inch away from connecting on final pass after final pass, unable to set up the killer opportunity that they feasted on for much of last season.
In a match that saw four yellow cards issued to San Jose players and several stoppages of play to attend to injured Timbers, the team will have to settle for getting out alive, rather than with the three preseason points that they would always prefer.