It was inevitably another classic in Portland between the Timbers and LA.
This one had two goals in stoppage time, and ended in familiar fashion: Robbie Keane charging down the referee with Bruce Arena walking down the touchline in flummoxed exasperation as if to say, “How did they do it again?”
Make no mistake: A 1-1 draw salvaged with the last kick of the game is a terrific result for the Timbers against a better-coach, better-constructed LA Galaxy team who were on the front foot for almost the entire 90 minutes.
Portland just can’t get everyone pulling in the same direction. When the offense is good, the defense isn’t. Today, the defense was terrific while the offense was listless.
It was Portland’s defense that kept them in the game. Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, and Donovan Ricketts – all solid for 92 minutes, while LA had 56% percent of possession and a more than two-to-one shot lead over the Timbers.
It was the defense that was shuffled when Michael Harrington limped off early and compensated for Alvas Powell as he acclimated to the match. Jack Jewsbury was terrific playing 87 minutes plus stoppage time at left-back, and Powell settled down and played well in the second half.
That’s why it would have been great if the Timbers could have picked up their first clean-sheet of the season against Landon Donovan, Keane and Co.
Instead, the potential shutout turned into their most incredible breakdown yet as Keane walked into the six-yard box on a thrown-in for a wide-open headed goal.
The Irish captain was so totally flabbergasted at the defending, he forgot to cartwheel away in celebration.
But the Timbers did it again. It was Will Johnson, really, who was the hero. After a knockdown from Futty, he back-heeled the ball through a crowd of four white shirts to Diego Valeri, who fired the ball through the arms of Jaime Penado to remarkably salvage a point.
So yes, the Timbers aren’t very good. But their ability to grab last-gasp goals at home is remarkable. If Portland didn’t have stoppage time goals from Gaston Fernandez against Philadelphia, Maxi Urruti against DC United, and Valeri against LA, they’d have four points and a record of 0-5-4.
Don’t discount the importance of scoring late in games, however disappointing the team has been through 90 minutes.
Portland isn’t happy with their performance, and the wrath of Caleb Porter was felt by the media after the match. The Timbers feel that they should be dominating, controlling, and winning home matches. That’s not happening.
But this Mother’s Day matinee was completely different than deflating home draws against Philadelphia, Chicago, and Chivas, where the Timbers were obviously the better team and just playing poorly.
LA was a whole lot better than the Timbers. Portland isn’t going to beat teams like the Galaxy playing a 4-6-0 with limited forward pressure and no attacking possession. A draw was a good result in this game.
Plus, the Timbers were dealt a difficult set of circumstances. Harrington’s early injury meant that Powell had to come into the game.
Not only is Powell not a left-back, he was also going to have to match up with Robbie Keane, who was shifted wide left to start the match with the man/giant Canadian Rob Friend up top.
Porter’s move was to switch Powell and Jewsbury, which meant Powell would play in his natural position. Bruce Arena’s response was to switch Keane to the right, and the early potion of the match devolved into the Galaxy trying to target Powell with Keane, and the Timbers trying to target LA fullback Dan Gargen with Steve Zakuani.
Both teams covered well. Zakuani faded quickly from the match after blowing by Gargen in the first 30 seconds, and Powell got cover and coaching at different points from every player on the back-line.
As the game dispersed, LA’s three overran Portland’s two in midfield, and every time the Galaxy got Landon Donovan on the ball, something good happened for them.
Donovan was pure class – he only missed three passes in the entire game, and while he still hasn’t broken the goalscoring record, his fitness and sharpness have come miles since the start of the season.
If you’re a USA fan, you’re smiling at Donovan’s performance. He was the best player on the field. Portland tried man-marking him with Diego Chara for much of the game, and while Chara had a few nice tackles, Donovan mostly ran him silly.
It was also striking to see a true #9 at Providence Park. The 6’5 Friend won header after header, making Futty and Kah look like ants in the process. While he remains limited with his feet, LA had an outlet to play the ball to. They were multi-dimensional: They countered effectively, possessed, and could play long.
Meanwhile, many of the Timbers’ best attacks started with Donovan Ricketts throws, which isn’t a great sign. Gaston Fernandez is a good player. He’s not a forward. Priority number one for this team has to be bringing in a true striker with size. On the occasions when Zakuani, Darlington Nagbe, and Jewsbury got to the byline, there was no one in the middle to finish off crosses.
LA’s back-line was clearly their weak-spot – today with no Omar Gonzalez – but it was hardly tested. Portland had to defend because their attack once again looked disjointed and unbalanced.
But the defending really was good. Set pieces were no problem in this game, which may be down to the Timbers going from zonal-marking to man-marking – an obvious move if there ever was one. However, play from attacking set pieces is still anemic.
The Timbers tried a few short-corner routines that didn’t come off, and by the end of the first half, Kah wasn’t even bothering to get into the box for corners.
The defensive error was a huge disappointment – blame Ricketts, Futty, or Kah, it was awful – but they day ended on a high when the Timbers found another goal at the death.
What more can you say? It was a beautiful day – and whether they like it or not, the Timbers got a good result.