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Monday, March 11, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 12, 2013

If the Timbers' season opener got fans excited about the possibilities for the season, their second game, a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact, showed there is still a good deal of work for the team to do.

Montreal had a few good scoring chances because of poor marking by the Timbers' defense. If not for some off-target shots and a good save by Donovan Ricketts the Impact could easily have scored a goal or two earlier than they finally did, in the 30th minute. Andrea Pisanu sent a free kick into the penalty area that Portland couldn't clear. Instead Matteo Ferrari was able to send the ball across to Hassoun Camara, who scored on I have to admit was an excellent overhead kick. Given their success breaking through the Timbers' defense to that point it was entirely fair for the Impact to take a 1-0 lead into halftime.

Montreal came into the game with a plan to stay back on defense and prevent Portland from using emphasis on possession to its advantage. By keeping so many players back they denied Portland's midfield the time and space to make passes toward the goal. Too often someone like Diego Valeri or Darlington Nagbe had the ball near the top of the penalty area, but was covered well and had no one to pass to and couldn't make a run at the goal.

The second half went much like the first. Portland kept the ball for extended periods but couldn't make many chances out of them, while Montreal scored a second goal after taking advantage of a misplaced pass and defensive errors. Will Johnson's pass was picked off by Patrice Bernier, who sent a perfect pass downfield to Andres Romero. The Timbers' defense didn't follow Felipe, who was running to the near post and easily put away Romero's cross. In a matter of seconds, but Portland was down 2-0.

Portland would get one goal back after finally changing their strategy a little and going for longer passes to stretch out the Impact's defense. Ryan Johnson tapped in a cross from Ben Zemanski, who got the ball at the  top corner of the penalty area from a well placed Diego Chara pass. Longer passes like the two that led to the goal would probably have been effective against Montreal but the Timbers took too long to start doing this, and in the end couldn't get a second goal.

The main thing to take away from this game is that there is a relatively simple plan to follow when playing the Timbers. If you have a disciplined defense willing to sit back and let Portland hold onto the ball, then take advantage on the counterattack, you can come away with a draw or win. Now we'll see if Caleb Porter makes the adjustments necessary to earn his first MLS win.

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