When the goal came from rookie substitute Adam Jahn in the 92nd after almost two consecutive hours of the Portland Timbers blanking the San Jose Earthquakes, it hurt. But it didn't hurt nearly as much as it would have if Chris Wondolowski had buried his free header in the dying moments of the team's clash at Jeld-Wen Field the previous Sunday, and it didn't sting as much as it would have if Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, or Wondolowski had struck it. The Timbers drew San Jose 1-1 Sunday night. It was the most sterling of performances from Caleb Porter's team, and it certainly didn't have the most sterling of finishes. But it was a fair point and a solid result for a team still on the rise.
It was always going to be hard for the Timbers / Earthquakes rematch to create the kind of firestorm that would live up to expectations. The teams' meeting in Portland had everything a classic soccer match could ask for – controversy, fighting, a red card, a dazzling goal, and a massive fall-out. There is something to be said for how the Jeld-Wen cauldron stirs the most passion in teams, home and away, and how road Timbers matches rarely explode the same way home games do.
After all, it was a pleasant night in Northern California at Buck Shaw Stadium, a facility that looks more at home as a college soccer stadium when it is used by Santa Clara.
It was a game that threatened to get going multiple times, but a few culprits stopped things from boiling over. Donovan Ricketts, for one, was superb, the best and most important player on the field – his one v. one stop on reigning MLS scoring champ Wondolowski was most likely the best of his Timbers career, though it only barely pipped the sprightly kick-save he had to make just after the match kicked off.
Ricketts was at his best; he commanded his area, coming for crosses and corners with ease and efficiency, while making the most of his large frame, and one large palm, as Wondolowski will attest.
Another factor in the game not simmering up too much was 26-year-old referee Armando Villarreal. It's usually a bad idea to have a man in charge of a highly-charged game where many of the main culprits are older than the referee, but Villarreal did his job well and got the big decisions right.
The third, and perhaps most important facet of the game, was that San Jose wasn't nearly as frustrated as they were last Sunday in Portland. It was an even game in which both teams thought they had a chance to win, even though the Earthquakes had the better chances all night. There was plenty of space to exploit for San Jose's attack-minded midfield to wick balls into the area and feed the strikers, while Portland shied away from "Porterball", playing direct, long passes, many times to a stranded Ryan Johnson.
In fact, the quality of distribution from Futty and the once-more excellent Mikael Silvestre showed how isolated Johnson, and later Kalif Alhasson, was up top. If Porter is going into a game knowing he hasn't instructed his team to play the pretty, short, possession-based game we've become accustomed to, it may be better to throw Fredrique Piquionne up top with Johnson, at the expense of Rodney Wallace, to provide the leading line more support and substance.
It mattered naught, though, when the Timbers took the lead in the 58th minute. Portland only looked truly threatening for fleeting moments Sunday night and Diego Valeri, returned from a concussion, often couldn't pick out the final pass. But he was on spot to confidently lash in a rebound off a jangled Ryan Johnson run to give Portland the lead.
While the Timbers have been good at holding momentum and closing out games under Porter, Portland lost the initiative when they finally grabbed the lead, and it was a team that lent itself to hanging on for another improbable 1-0 win.
But the odds were always against the Timbers holding the defending Supporters Shield winners scoreless for, counting added time, almost 200 straight minutes of soccer. After all, the Earthquakes had a point to prove: They were showing the Timbers they are not ready to relinquish the title of Comeback Kings.
San Jose pumped balls into the box, but the Timbers would have looked a good threat to hold on, but luck turned against them in the 92nd minute. A flicked header from Lenhart came to San Jose midfielder Nano Attakora, who was felled – not illegally – by Silvestre. Waiting for the referee's potentially match-changing decision, players from both teams stopped playing, except for Wondolowski, who the ball fell to. He eagerly played it back to recent Stanford graduate Jahn, who hammered home the equalizer.
It was an unfortunate end to what was about to be a very good night for the Timbers. It still was a good night – the Earthquakes still haven't defeated Portland and Porter's men are still unbeaten on the road. It's safe to say that the rematch wasn't as big a game for the Timbers as the first clash had been.
Portland has already hit double digits in points this year, a feat that took the 2012 team almost exactly a month longer to do. It's early, but the Timbers are in the playoffs, and it would be a fool who would bet against them at the moment to drop out before it's all said and done. Portland is almost done navigating one of their most difficult run of games all season long. Things are looking up.
Abe Asher is on Twitter. Follow him at @AbesWorldSports