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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 19, 2013

The Portland-Seattle rivalry has quickly become one of the biggest games in MLS. Saturday was the first of three meetings this season between the two clubs and I would say it lived up to the expectations. There was plenty of good play throughout, with nervous moments for both teams and a dramatic finish.

Overall I'd call the match pretty even. Portland tried to work their passing game but the Seattle midfield and defense was solid most of the game. Central defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Djimi Traore had very good games. In the midfield Osvaldo Alonso had a huge game, as he usually does. I'm going to confess, if I could take one player on Seattle and put him on Portland's roster it would be Alonso in a heartbeat. He can take the ball away from anyone in MLS, his passing is excellent, and he keeps their midfield organized.

That being said, Portland has a decent midfield, which made Seattle's goal all the more surprising. In the 13th minute Diego Chara attempted a poor pass to Ben Zemanski. Seattle's Steve Zakuani intercepted it easily and ran down the left side of the field. He put in a perfect cross for Eddie Johnson, who had no problem finishing at close range. I have to ask why Andrew Jean-Baptiste didn't run with Johnson, leaving the forward alone against the keeper, but the big error was by Chara. It was shocking to see such a costly mistake from such a normally reliable player.

Following the goal the Sounders had the momentum but eventually Portland pulled itself together and by halftime the teams looked evenly matched. Most of the second half went by without much of a threat from Portland but with about two minutes to go Ryan Johnson's shot was deflected over the net. Not long after, Jean-Baptiste received a throw-in near the goal line on the right side and sent a cross to Rodney Wallace at the far post, who made it 1-1 as the clock hit 90:00. I keep hearing it was a stoppage-time goal but I'm positive it was in the net before that. In any case, four minutes of added time later the Timbers left Seattle with a hard-earned point. Rodney Wallace has had his share of criticism from many Timbers fans, myself included, for his shortcomings as a defender the past two seasons. However, when used in the midfield he's been better, and this makes two years in a row his goal has given the Timbers a draw against Seattle (he did it at home last September, on a header, coincidentally).

As one of the 810 fans in the Timbers Army section I think I speak for most all of us when I can say there were a lot of emotions at the final whistle. There was the joy at scoring a big goal at the very end of the game, and relief at getting a point when it looked like the Timbers might not get it done. Later that night, watching the replay of the goal on my computer I felt a sense of disbelief it had really happened. I try to look at things rationally when I watch games but still, soccer is a very emotional game. The good feelings of Saturday will always stay with me longer than anything I feel after bad losses.

Looking at the bigger picture a draw on the road is almost always a good result in soccer, and the Timbers did many things well. The defense especially was much better than it had been the first two weeks. Portland now has the weekend off as it prepares for its next game, at Colorado, where they have yet to score a point in three visits. Perhaps that will change now that Portland knows it can do well away from home.

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