By James Morgan
Changes in the starting 11 and a home-field advantage were not enough to give the Timbers a win against Sporting Kansas City (SKC) on Saturday night at Jeld Wen Field. SKC took home a 2-1 victory with a pair of first half goals that the disorganized-looking Timbers were unable to equalize.
In keeping with a pattern that has become all too familiar to the struggling expansion side, Portland gave up two early goals in rapid succession, and though midfielder Darlington Nagbe scored a spectacular goal at the close of the first half, in spite of competent play, the Boys in Green did not find the net again.
The Timbers started the first half looking energetic and determined, but they lacked control and organization and often seemed to pass spastically and almost at random. For their part, a newly revitalized and streaking SKC showed good discipline, composure and midfield competence and in the 15th minute, the always dangerous striker C.J. Sapong, on an assist from midfielder Omar Bravo, got out ahead of the Portland backline and slotted home a crisp shot that evidently caught Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins completely by surprise.
For a few minutes immediately following the goal it was possible to believe that the Timbers would shrug it off, regain their own composure, and soldier on, but then, four minutes later, they again deteriorated into confusion as SKC defender Aurelien Collin scored with a header knocked in off of good service into a largely undefended box from Matt Besler.
In the following minutes the Timbers, a shell-shocked-looking bunch, began to regroup, and in the latter part of the first half, to their credit, they were able to apply real pressure. In the 45th minute their efforts came to fruition as the talented but still young and inexperienced midfielder Darlington Nagbe shot a precision ball into the upper left corner of the net from just outside the top of the box. The goal, a sure candidate for the AT&T MLS Goal of the Week, changed the momentum of play as the match went into the second half.
“We dug ourselves a deep hole,” said Timbers Head Coach John Spencer. “We’re on the ropes and we’ve got to get up andget ourselves back on track.”
In the second half, the Timbers played a more convincing game, often beating SKC to the ball and creating many potential opportunities. However, while Portland’s play was good enough to stymie SKC’s offense, their own offense was dodgy at best, full of holes, often completely random and seemingly without any real direction aside from the solid midfield, anchored by the active and always dangerous presence of former SKC midfielder Jack Jewsbury.
In the end, the Timbers could not find the back of the net and a competent and confident SKC took home the three points.
OTHER NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
The first thing to say about Saturday’s match is that the Timbers, in contrast to their recent performance against FC Dallas, did not completely fall apart after conceding their traditional early goals. To the contrary, they actually got it together and in the 45th minute, on the strength of a bit of Darlington Nagbe brilliance, pulled off a semi-respectable showing against a recently resurgent side that is good enough to pose a real threat to any team in the league.
Was it a good idea to replace Hall and Cooper in the starting 11? I don’t know. If moving those guys out of their starting positions turns out to be effective in terms of motivating their play, then yes, it was a good call. If not, then what’s the point? I guess we won’t really know until next week.
That said, as much as I like Eddie Johnson, the fact is that he was virtually nonexistent as a factor in tonight’s match. When Kenny Cooper came on in his place in the 67th minute, you all-of-a-sudden saw an SKC backline struggling with Cooper’s size (if you run into him or get hit by him, you’re basically flattened) and Perlazza’s speed, which of course, is what Timbers management originally had in mind when it paired the two strikers. For my money, as frustrating as Kenny Cooper can be, he ought to stay put as one of the starting 11. Jorge and Kenny are a very dangerous combination.
As for Jeremy Hall Vs. Steve Purdy, I have no opinion. What I know is that Hall has yet to deliver. Since such is the case, I do feel that Purdy deserves a shot.
Darlington Nagbe’s goal was one of the sweetest I have ever seen. It was his first in MLS, but leaving that aside, it was quite simply a thing of beauty that will probably be shown to soccer audiences worldwide. As Timbers Head Coach John Spencer said, “I think we’ve [MLS] been fortunate in the last month to see probably three of the best goals in world soccer: Hassli’s against Seattle, Zusi’s against Dallas, and now, that one tonight.”
C.J. Sapong is a baddass.
John Spencer still believes in Portland and Jeld-Wen Field and the Timbers Army: “The great thing about playing here is that the fans never have an off-night. The Timbers Army is well-experienced, they’ve cheered a lot of games… This is the lion’s den, this is a cauldron. It’s a fantastic place to play… It makes you grow up very quick, or it makes you hide…”
Final point: I think the Timbers are on the verge of turning the corner on their downhill slide. They still play like they are badly confused, but there’s also another sense of guys getting it together and figuring out how to work as a team rather than as a bunch of disparate people who are trying to score goals. One way or another, I believe that the Portland Timbers will shortly tear up all of MLS. If it takes a year, so be it. You will know us when we call.