By James Morgan
The two worst defensive sides in all of MLS met Saturday night at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland where, in keeping with what seems to be becoming an unfortunate habit, the Timbers (6-10-4)22pts. found a way to botch what looked like a sure victory against Toronto FC (3-11-10)19pts. The 2-2 draw, played before a boisterous and sold-out but eventually disappointed crowd of 18,627, was painfully typical of the Timbers’ inaugural MLS season thus far and could easily be an allegory for the team’s larger trajectory. The Timbers dominated the match for most of the game and came into the final 20 minutes up two goals but still managed to walk away without the win.
“Offensively, at times we were magnificent,” said a visibly downcast Timbers head coach John Spencer. “We scored two very good goals. Defensively, at times we looked not good enough.”
The match started with the Timbers immediately taking control and threatening early with crisp passing and excellent speed. The trio of forward Eddie Johnson and midfielders Sal Zizzo and Darlington Nagbe seemed to click especially well, and backed as they were by the competent presence of team Captain and MLS All-Star Jack Jewsbury as well as Diego Chara’s speed, one knew immediately that it would only be a matter of time before the Timbers scored against TFC’s porous defense.
Their first goal came in the 23rd minute when Zizzo made a pass along the right side to Chara who centered it to Johnson. Johnson took a touch and knocked it right-footed into the lower left corner, just out of reach of TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
For the remainder of the first half, the Timbers continued to dominate in all aspects and had several other looks at goal, while for their part, The Reds had little to say and if anything, looked even more lackluster and confused.
The second half started with more of the same with the Timbers still in control, dominating possession and clearly owning the forward momentum. Their second goal came in the 56th minute when Chara was brought down inside the box on a hard tackle by defender Andy Iro. The tackle didn’t earn Iro a card, but it did earn the Timbers a penalty kick. Jewsbury, gambling correctly that Frei would lunge to either side, shot it straight down the middle as the goalkeeper dove left.
TFC responded by going on an all-out offensive that against any other team may well have ended badly, but that against the always inconsistent Timbers, stood at least a chance of success. As Spencer said after the match, “They kind of gambled at the end of the game. It definitely paid off.”
The Red’s first goal came in the 71st minute when their two recently acquired forwards, Danny Koevermans and Peri Marosevic connected on a pass from winger Joao Plata. Marosevic shot it in from 25 yards out to have the ball deflect off of Nagbe and just past the right post.
Their next goal came ten minutes later in the 81st minute when, on the strength of the Timbers inability to find clearance, Koevermans, a Designated Player, knocked it in from about ten yards out off of a pass from Plata. The Timbers, seemingly in a state of disbelief that it was happening again, slowed down even more in the final ten minutes. There were even a smattering of boos from the normally loyal Portland supporters as the dejected boys in green made their way to the locker room.
Other notes and Observations:
I don’t think there’s much to be said about the Timbers’ repeated late match meltdowns. Either they figure out what’s happening and how to get it together and stay consistent, or they can write this season off as a failure.
Despite the loss, the recently acquired Lovel Palmer and Mike Chabala actually played fairly well. It is still too early to know whether they can bring whatever it is that is so clearly lacking in the Timbers’ backline, but obviously Spencer knows them from his time at Houston, so perhaps there is reason for optimism.
The trio of Nagbe, Zizzo and Johnson in the still relatively new 4-5-1 formation was fun to watch and looked easily as effective as anything else the Timbers have done up front this season. It’s probably too early for Jorge Perlazza (who was out with a pulled hamstring) to start worrying about getting his job back from Johnson, but at this point, as Spencer has repeatedly said, there are no guaranteed starting slots and whoever performs will get the nod. Johnson looked like he had great communication and rapport with Zizzo and Nagbe.
In other news, at least we can be happy that Seattle lost to Houston 3-1 and that the boys played well last Wednesday against Argentinian side Atletico Independiente. The 4-0 drubbing that the MLS All-Stars took at the hands of Manchester United is a completely different matter, but then, they are easily one of the top two or three sides on the planet, so really, what can one expect?