Saturday, September 15, 2012

Timbers tie Seattle 9-15-12

The Timbers fought their way to a draw against heavy odds today.  The Sounders have been on a roll since their last visit to Jeld-Wen when our folk beat them handily.   And the Timbers, by contrast, have had a rough road--coaching and personnel changes and performances on the field bouncing from high to low.   The match today, however, was one of the most electric contests I've seen on a pitch this year as well as a testimony to the Timbers who showed that they indeed have the potential to find the warriors within who can claw the last mile in a game that the oddsmakers would say was a giveaway.

Let me recap the points that stuck in my mind when it was all over.   Portland attacking.  Sal Zizzo making runs on the right flank early in the game.  Franck Songo'o dancing his way past Seattle defenders and, when fouled,  stepping up his game to say 'I will not be intimidated'.   A beautiful moment.  Song'o launching a perfectly arced cross into the box from the attacking left side almost onto the feet of a sliding Chara.    Chara like a bulldog protecting the home of his master challenging Seattle's attack over and over while at the same time breaking into the attacking end and creating havoc there.   Chara late in the first half with the ball on his feet dribbling under serious pressure toward the top of the box and the Seattle defender wrapping him up, literally, in his arms and taking Chara down.  No whistle.   The replay on the big screen clearly showed the foul.  Chara shaking it off and trotting back down field, a smile as always on his face.

Dike bulling his way around the top of the attacking zone.  The Timbers attack was relentless and varied today.   Songo'o launching a rocket from twenty five that required a full body parry.  Dike and Jewsbury taking shots left and right.  Wallace launching  balls into the goalbox.

And at the defending end,  the team in green were like terriers barking at the heels of Seattle's forwards.  The one moment of anxious inhalation when Fredy (you know Fredy!) was about to break into the box free and was stripped of the ball with a confident tackle. Mosquera and Horst were tireless.   Wallace played smart defense and still managed to get forward into the attack while well-covered by Jewsbury.

The first half ended nil-nil with consensus in the stands that Portland had played strong and had blunted Seattle's psychological and physical edge.   What was clear though was the Sounders' willingness to chop down their opponent to gain advantage.   Through the half Timbers' players took hits after releasing a pass or away from play completely to the point that the game had a roller derby flavor.

Sadly,  the second half made that flavor the dominant one in the match.  Early in the second half,  Donovan Ricketts went down in a collision with Eddie Johnson as he and Fredy crashed the goal on a high ball.  Ricketts didn't get up for a long count and when he did it was clear he wasn't okay.   Johnson,  in a sportsmanlike gesture, came over to shake his hand when he was finally on his feet.   Certainly, Sounders have reason to be hostile to chippy play after the serious injury to Steve Zakuani  against Colorado last year.   Ricketts, though willing to brave it out,  went off after a short interval and was replaced by Portland's substitute keeper, Joe Bendik.   The substitution was barely complete when Montero took a long ball out of his own end and volleyed it over Bendik's hands giving Seattle the lead.

This is where the story begins to get interesting.   The Timbers were down by a goal in the second half to a team who mostly win when they score first.   The Timbers' first string keeper was out injured.  The Timbers have struggled to come back when they've given up early goals   So what would happen today?  Eighteen or nineteen thousand fans were in full roar rallying the team.   And the team responded.

The Timbers didn't stop playing.  Didn't stop fighting.  Didn't lose their composure.   They continued to attack the Sounders goal.  Songo'o demonstrated his composure and his skills until he was injured and went off to be replaced by Danny Mwanga.  

The Timbers continued to match Seattle challenge for challenge and attack for attack,  and their perserverance paid off with Rodney Wallace's shot slicing through the goalline defense and into the net to tie the game.  And the game continued to be rough beyond physical.  Late in the second half,  Al Hassan was subbed in for Sal Zizzo whose early success against the Sounders defense had begun to be less effective.   With that change,  the team had gone through its allowed substitutions.

Not long after, Diego Chara who'd been a workhorse for the team, went down in a challenge and came off the field with what clearly looked like a groin pull.   There were still minutes on the clock and the Timbers were forced to play short.   In stoppage time,  the Timbers continuing to attack,  Dike's shot hit the right post and in an astonishing display of improbable physics bounced out to the left across the entire face of goal to be deflected out without going across the line.   In years of watching soccer matches a shot with a 'curse' like this almost never happens.   Not too long after, Joe Bendik made a stellar save on a wormburner from twenty plus yards out which would have stolen the result.

Six minutes of stoppage time were whistled to an end and the match was deemed a draw.  A partisan view would say that one or two calls changed the result in Seattle's favor.   The taking down of Chara for example.   But for anyone who loves the game this match displayed some extraordinary football.   From a Timbers' fan point of view the biggest issue is whether Chara, Songo'o and Ricketts will be able to suit up for the next game.  

Today the challenge laid down was to represent the Timbers ably in front of the thousands of loyal fans here and to not give an inch to Seattle, our worthy rivals.  The Cascadia Cup is on the line and the Timbers are still atop that table--no small achievement.   I'd say this match was one of those which will be talked about for years,  a classico.   I'm glad to say we were there.

Scoring in MLS...

It's a small thing perhaps,  but I noted in an article yesterday about the leading scorers in MLS right now that both Alan Gordon and Kenny Cooper are right up there.   Both former Timbers strikers who've done well when placed in the right mix.  Goal scoring is a skill for which there are many different formulas.  For our team the biggest question up front may continue to be not whether we've got talented players but whether we're putting them in a context that works for their style.  Not a brilliant insight perhaps but a reminder that football is a team sport.