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Saturday, June 29, 2013

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Portland Soccer, June 25, 2013

At this point in the season, the Timbers are doing something they haven't done in MLS: Go into games expecting to win and doing just that, comfortably. Sunday against the Colorado Rapids they started slowly, allowing the Rapids several good chances at goal before settling down, playing the style they've played all year, and coming away with a 3-0 win.

The win may have been routine, but the goals were all very nice. First, in the 10th minute, Will Johson took a free kick and passed to Rodney Wallace, who the Rapids failed to cover. He sent a cross to Frederic Piquionne, who headed the ball in off the bottom of the crossbar to give Portland the lead. It was a nicely worked goal that started from a smart play by the Timbers captain.

Just before halftime, as the clock approached 45:00, Piquionne won a challenge for the ball and found Wallace running at goal. Wallace laid the ball off for Johnson. Watching the play in real time it seemed Johnson made a great run at the goal to beat goalkeeper Clint Irwin for a 2-0 lead. On replay it turned out Johnson had done even better, flicking the ball up to himself before volleying it in, all on the run. What looked like a good goal was a spectacular one and a highlight of the season so far.

Entering the second half with a two-goal lead allowed the Timbers to keep possession and run time off the clock a little. Colorado did manage 18 shots, but apart from the opening 10 minutes and a time in the 58th when Jack Jewsbury made a good clearance off the goal line, the Rapids were not too threatening. Portland put any doubts to rest in the 83rd, however. Substitute Ben Zemanski passed wide to Wallace, who crossed to Ryan Johnson with one touch. The striker, coming off the bench, slotted the ball home with one touch as well. It was a beautiful team goal that was the perfect cap to a win that took the Timbers to a tie for first place in the Western Conference with Real Salt Lake.

Even more encouraging was the fact that coach Caleb Porter and the players admitted the performance wasn't perfect and they are still working toward being the best they can be.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Portland Soccer, June 18, 2013

The past weekend was a very busy, very good one. On Saturday the Timbers faced FC Dallas, the league leaders. The two teams had faced each other in Dallas in May and the result was a 1-1 draw. Most players and fans felt the Timbers could have had a win if not for a controversial penalty, but it was clear these were two very good teams. The last MLS home game was back on May 12, the weather was perfect, and the crowd was eagerly anticipating a good match.

In the end, the match was as good as I was hoping. Portland had plenty of chances, but Dallas has a very good defense and goalkeeper Raul Fernandez had an excellent game. For the first half and the opening minutes of the second it seemed as if this would be a scoreless draw.

Then came Darlington Nagbe. He dribbled into the left side of the penalty area, spun, and curved the ball inside the post from a tight angle. The only person in the stadium who saw a chance there was Nagbe, and he took it. Credit also should go to Kalif Alhassan, who had the assist on the goal, which was a just reward for a strong game from the midfieder. Alhassan's biggest problem has been consistency in his four years with the Timbers. Saturday, however, they needed a big game from him and got it, as he was a key in building the attack.

Following the goal Portland and Dallas continued the high intensity that was present throughout the game, but the Timbers came out with a huge 1-0 win that was their 13th consecutive game without a loss.

The next day the Thorns faced the Seattle Reign at home, without their Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, and Rachel Beuhler, who were away with their national teams. The last time Portland was without them they struggled to a 2-0 loss to Chicago. After the first half ended scoreless it looked as if Portland's struggles would continue.

The match changed quickly once the second half started. Forward Danielle Foxhoven came on to start the half and three minutes later took a pass from Mana Shim, found space on the left side of the penalty area, and scored a brilliant curving goal from about the same spot Nagbe had scored from for the Timbers the day before. Foxhoven's speed and energy changed the Thorns team and they seemed more aggressive the second half. Portland's new approach paid off in a second goal in the 66th minute when Angie Kerr played a perfect pass to Shim, who split the Seattle central defenders and scored on a 1 v 1 with goalkeeper Michelle Betos to make the score 2-0, which is how it finished. The Thorns ended the weekend tied at the top of the NWSL table with Sky Blue FC, who they face Saturday in New Jersey.

There was more good Thorns news today as the team signed Tiffany Weimer. She had been playing in Denmark and has had significant professional experience following a good college career from 2000-2005. She should bring veteran leadership to the Thorns and will be another option at forward.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Portland Soccer, June 11, 2013

Although there are plenty of stars in the game of soccer it really is a team game. You need everyone working together to succeed. However, some players are more valuable than others. The Timbers are no exception and showed it Saturday at Chicago. With Diego Valeri controlling the midfield they looked dangerous and focused, taking a 2-0 lead. In the final 20 minutes, after he had left the game, the Timbers seemed disorganized and allowed the Fire to come back for a 2-2 draw. While the result extended Portland's unbeaten streak to 12 games, it was still a little disappointing not to take all three points after having the lead for so much of the match. 

Valeri made his mark with his passing and distribution from the start of the game, and in the 33rd minute he put his name on the score sheet, putting his short range shot off the near post and into the net from about 20 yards out. Truthfully the Fire were lucky not be down more than one goal at that point, as the Timbers had hit the post three times in the first four minutes of the game, with two excellent chances in the first 45 seconds alone. 

In the second half the Portland pressure continued, and in the 58th minute Frederic Piquionne, having the ball penalty area, cut it back to substitute Ben Zemanski 25 yards from goal. Zemanski one-timed a low shot past Chicago goalkeeper Shawn Johnson. The Timbers had a 2-0 lead with half an hour to go and seemed well on their way to a solid road win. 

After Valeri left the game and Sal Zizzo came on in the 67th minute, however, the game turned in Chicago's favor. In the 68th minute Andrew Jean-Baptiste was beaten to a through ball by Mike Magee, who scored into an empty net to make the score 2-1. Jean-Baptiste is prone to a major mistake or two every game, and in this case it led to a goal. He's got a lot of promise and is already a good defender, but he still needs time to develop and learn the game at the professional level. The good news was that Pa Modou Kah had a nice game at the other central defender spot and seems to have settled in. 

Chicago kept up pressure for most of the rest of the match, and it paid off when Daniel Paladini put a free kick over the wall to tie the game in the 82nd minute. Portland did have some chances late, after Jose Valencia came in and brought some energy and life to an offense that had been struggling. He's done well in his handful of appearances and probably will feature in the Open Cup game Wednesday against Tampa Bay. The Open Cup may also be a reason Porter made the unusual move of removing Valeri so early. The Timbers have that game Wednesday and a league game against Dallas next Saturday, so it will be very important to balance rest with playing lineups that can win games. Coach Caleb Porter is still learning this, and he's off to a good start, but as he's said all season, there's still room for improvement. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Portland Soccer, June 7, 2013

Most games have a lot of good and a lot of bad, and the Thorns' 4-3 win over FC Kansas City last night was no exception. The attack looked better at times but there were still some of the same issues the Thorns need to work on.

Portland opened the scoring quickly, in the 13th minute. Becky Edwards sent a ball forward for Alex Morgan. Becky Sauerbrunn was racing Morgan to the ball when she slipped and fell, leaving Morgan alone against keeper Nicole Barnhart. She finished very nicely, putting her shot over Barnhart and into the top of the net for an early lead. Edwards had a strong game all night, winning the ball in midfield and looking for forwards to pass to.

They added to their lead after 20 minutes. Marian Dougherty took the ball down to the goal line and sent a cross into the penalty area. Courtney Wetzel was running at goal and was first to the ball for an easy tap in from 12 yards out. It seemed as if the Thorns might be well on their way to recovering from their loss to Chicago last weekend. This goal wasn't very flashy or spectacular, but that's what I liked the most about it. It came from a simple but effective move that didn't involve trying to get to a longball. The goal was a sign that the Thorns are capable of creating goals out of passing and movement, an encouraging sign.

Portland's defense, however, has been prone to mistakes, and in the 38th minute they made another. Rachel Buehler was forced to tackle Kansas City's Renae Cuellar from behind and give up a penalty kick. Honestly, Buehler was lucky to escape without a yellow card on the play as she fouled Cuellar from behind and didn't get anywhere near the ball. Lauren Cheney converted the penalty kick to make it 2-1 after the first half.

In the 48th minute, Danielle Foxhoven, who had just come on at halftime, tapped a cross from Morgan into the goal for a 3-1 lead. It was another good goal that came from getting forward and getting a cross in. Eight minutes later, though, KC made it 3-2 on another defensive breakdown. This time the left side of the back line was at fault. Dougherty was far too lax about allowing Leigh Ann Robinson to get to the goal line and cross the ball, and Kat Williamson was beaten to the near post by Cheney, who had her second goal of the game.

Portland pushed the lead back to two in the 66th. Barnhart blocked a cross from Christine Sinclair, but Morgan gained control of the rebound and her shot deflected off Allie Long, who was credited with the goal. The Thorns allowed Kansas City to close to within a goal once again, however, when they allowed Erika Tymrak a shot just outside the top of the 18 that made it through everyone untouched. Portland was able to hold on from there, however, and take all three points in an entertaining, back-and-forth contest.

Although the Thorns did well to score four times, and was a little better in attack, the defense still needs work. There were still a number of times KC was able to get into dangerous positions, and with a little better finishing could easily have drawn or even won the game. The defense has been together most of the season so they should know how to play as a unit. On the whole, though, it was a good night and a good win for the Thorns, who needed an improved performance and got it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Portland Soccer, June 4, 2013

With the Timbers having the past weekend off, the focus turned to the Thorns and their game at home against  the Chicago Red Stars. It would be an interesting matchup since four Thorns starters would be away representing their national teams. Alex Morgan and Rachel Beuhler would be playing for the United States in their friendly against Canada, who would have Christine Sinclair and Karina Leblanc in their squad. All four are key members of the Thorns, and the team would have to find a way to win without them.

As it turned out I don't think the absence of Sinclair and Morgan, by far the two biggest attacking threats on the Thorns, had much of an effect on the result. The Thorns lost 2-0 in a match where Chicago took advantage of their opportunities and the Thorns once again couldn't get organized in midfield. Angie Kerr had some good moments but forwards Meleana Shim and Danielle Foxhoven weren't able to finish them.

Defensively the Thorns may have missed Beuhler's organizational skills as both Chicago goals came from huge defensive lapses. Chicago scored their first goal in the 35th minute. After a Chicago corner kick was headed across the goal area, Zakiya Bywaters was alone at the opposite post to head the ball in. The Thorns completely lost track of her. In the 6ist minute the Red Stars scored a second goal. Lydia Vandenburgh sent a cross from the left side of the penalty area to the opposite side, where Jackie Santacaterina had beaten a defender for an open look at the goal.

Portland, with their national team players back, has a chance to improve their game quickly, as Kansas City is at Jeld-Wen Field Thursday night. KC was their opponent in the first game of the season, and the first in NWSL history. That game finished 1-1 so the Thorns will have a good test on their hands.