By James Morgan
I want to jump up and down and shout and holler that “the goddamned Portland Timbers are back!” after their 1-0 road victory over the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview Illinois Saturday night, but were I to do so, I’d certainly be guilty of several levels of hyperbole, gross over-enthusiasm and in general, losing my head in the euphoria of a win that, while potentially of huge importance to a demoralized but talented expansion side, comes, after all, against one of MLS’s bottom-of-the-bag teams. And I say that while apologizing for the long sentence, if nothing else.
The Chicago Fire, an otherwise accomplished club that holds numerous titles, is struggling badly this year and to be perfectly and painfully honest, it showed tonight as they were taken down at home by the Timbers, an expansion side that is also fighting for relevance.
And of course, that’s why the match mattered to both sides, if not to the rest of the league.
In the case of the Timbers, a side that had yet to log a win on the road and that has recently been in a seven-game tailspin, an away loss to the Fire, a team they’d already beaten at home, would have been yet another reaffirmation of their essential inability to find themselves as a team, despite abundant individual talent.
In the case of the Fire, the match was a matter of salvaging a season that, in generous terms, looks like a “rebuilder.” The Timbers, as a struggling expansion side have recently looked –along with the hapless Vancouver Whitecaps– like the whipping boys of the Western Conference. The Fire had to be thinking to themselves that if they couldn’t beat these clowns, they might as well write themselves and the rest of the season off as a loss.
The two sides approached the match with seemingly complimentary handicaps; the Timbers with a demonstrably competent if often unpolished offense, together with a sieve-like defense that’s been prone to collapse like a damsel-in-distress at the least sign of pressure, and the Fire with a solid defense and no real notion of offense whatsoever.
Given the above, the match started predictably enough with the Timbers controlling most of the movement but finding themselves unable to penetrate the deep Fire defense for any real chances on goal. Notably, coach John Spencer revamped his starting eleven for the second time in as many games, adding an additional midfielder in James Marcelín, while saving accomplished striker and former USMNT player Kenny Cooper for the second half.
The Timbers midfield generally did exactly what it was supposed to do and in the 24th minute, forward Jorge Perlazza got ahead on a pass from fellow countryman and long-time friend Diego Chará at the top of the box where he was subsequently taken out in a hard tackle by Chicago defender Gonzalo Segares.
Said tackle earned a penalty kick that was taken and sent home by the always dangerous MLS All Star Jack Jewsbury. Captain Jack shot it hard to Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s right, and although Johnson guessed its direction correctly, he was not fast enough to save the point.
Chicago nearly equalized in the 44th minute on a corner kick that defender Cory Gibbs headed just off the far right post, but it went wide and was knocked clear.
The second half of the match was more notable for what did not happen, despite the fact that defender Yamith Cuesta earned two yellow cards and an ejection in the 63rd minute.
With Chicago playing a man down and with the Timbers already ahead, one might be forgiven for imagining that an inspired Timbers side would have found a way to get it into the back of the net for a bit of certainty, but they did not. To their credit, the Fire played a game that, had they found it in the first half, may have won them the match inasmuch as they were able to threaten on several occasions despite the missing man. Midfielder Marco Pappa, an always dangerous proposition, for example, had several good runs on goal.
For his part, Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins earned his pay with three excellent saves, and although it is far too soon to say that that the Timbers backline has finally gotten its shit together, in this instance they played competently, if not well, despite the absence of Eric Brunner.
Bottom line, Timbers 1:0 Fire.
Other notes and comments:
Chicago sucks ass. Sorry to say it, but it’s true. That said, as happy as I am to see the Timbers break their losing streak and earn their first road win, let’s not get carried away. Damned near any team in the league can beat the current Chicago Fire. That the Timbers won is nice, but it doesn’t really prove anything about what they’re capable of.
On the whole thing of having five midfielders and one forward in Perlazza as opposed to two in Kenny Cooper and Jorge, despite myself, I find that I am for it because it seems to be working. Not only that, in a way, it makes perfect sense: here you’re John Spencer and you’ve got a roster that’s loaded with excellent mids. What the hell? You might as well use them, get control of the midfield, have good service into the box for your lone striker, and at the same time shore up your limp backline.
Finally, although it doesn’t really need saying, if anyone was wondering how or why Jack Jewsbury ended up on the MLS ALL STAR team, tonight was yet one more example of how good he really is. That is all.