by Brennan Burns
The Portland Timbers drew 1-1 with the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday evening at JELD-WEN Field, a record tying goal from a Chris Wondolowski first half penalty kick equalized by a Bright Dike finish in the second.
San Jose manager Frank Yallop started a mostly first choice lineup, the most notable absences rested for the playoffs including former second division Timbers Alan Gordon, veteran captain Ramiro Corrales, and Tottenham Hotpsur loanee Simon Dawkins staying home in California.
Golden Boot winner Wondolowski led the line with Steven Lenhart, an eye pointedly cast at breaking Roy Lassiter’s 16 year old record scoring mark.
In his final match as interim manager of Portland, Gavin Wilkinson opted for three changes to the starters that won the Cascadia Cup at the Vancouver Whitcaps six days prior, captain Jack Jewsbury, Franck Songo’o, and Hanyer Mosquera starting their offseason early.
In alongside David Horst came Andrew Jean-Baptiste, the newcomer starting and ending his debut season on the pitch, this time facing arguably his biggest test in attempting to corral Wondolowski and company. Eric Alexander joined Diego Chara in the center of the park, while Danny Mwanga paired with Bright Dike to round out the more attack minded formation.
Designated Player Kris Boyd was left off the matchday roster, listed as questionable on the injury report not the only question hovering over the player, the Scot now awaiting his fate when new head coach Caleb Porter arrives later this year.
The inclusion of rookies Brent Richards and Sebastian Rincon and midseason transfer Mike Fucito on the bench offered some insight to how management rates Boyd’s chances of regaining a regular role.
A torrential downpour before the match subsided to a drizzle as kickoff approached, the wet conditions offering a slippery pitch much to the home side’s advantage, the visitors coming up dry in two previous trips to JELD-WEN Field.
In the early going Portland dominated possession, San Jose bunkering down as a slew of crosses put pressure on netminder Jon Busch. Left back Steven Smith fed Mwanga inside the box ten minutes in, but the striker’s tame effort failed to worry Busch.
The Earthquakes made their first offensive foray minutes later, a corner destined for a free header from Wondolowski denied by teammate Shea Salinas, whose redirected effort from Lenhart’s initial contact went wide of the post.
At the quarter hour mark Portland’s guests were establishing a foothold in the match when Dike reminded their goalkeeper that the Timbers are also capable of physical play, a strong tackle deemed a foul as Busch left his box to clear a dangerous ball out of touch, much to the chagrin of the Timbers Army.
That ire rose further in the 23rd minute, a long ball won by Lenhart catching Donovan Ricketts out of his box, but the Jamaican did well to recover and tackle the ball away. That is, until the official pointed to the spot for a penalty, adjudging the keeper to take more man than ball in the challenge.
It was no surprise when Wondolowski assumed the honors the next minute, dispatching the spot kick with aplomb to tie the MLS record with his 27th tally of the campaign, scoring for the first time in the Rose City in the process. Wondo emphatically celebrated the remarkable achievement, the home support less impressed following the referee’s intervention.
Nerves were frayed for the hosts at the half hour mark, Sal Zizzo committing the cardinal sin of clearing the ball across the middle of his own defensive third, Marvin Chavez nearly capitalizing at the top of the box with a curving volley that narrowly bent to safety around the goalpost.
Shortly after, a late challenge on Smith from Wondolowski found the forward in trouble with the official, escaping the incident with only a warning. The ensuing free kick was headed out by Victor Bernardez for a Portland corner, and Jean-Baptiste did well to put the cross back on frame, only to see his curling effort rise over the crossbar.
As halftime approached, the Earthquakes looked every bit a Supporters Shield winning side, the Timbers gamely staying within striking distance despite the hard luck that plagued their entire season, a strong case for a handball penalty waived off in the 44th minute a prime example of Portland’s problems all year.
The lack of a whistle was one more sore spot for a Timbers squad yet to earn a penalty decision this season, and for all the talk of an atmospheric benefit to playing in Portland, the favors were all going against the city’s denizens.
Portland started brighter in the second half, Horst connecting on a loose ball minutes after the restart, the half volley going just wide of the goalmouth as the official dismissed claims of a deflection. Portland threatened again when Zizzo put a low cross into the six yard box, but the Earthquakes defense cleared the ball before Portland could get a toe to it.
Portland then earned a free kick outside the area, Zizzo’s shot taking a deflection for a corner with the hour mark nearing. San Jose defender Justin Morrow went to the turf in the midst of the play, forced to leave the pitch momentarily as Zizzo sailed the ball across the box, only for Lenhart to head clear.
San Jose were content to sit back and counterattack, and a giveaway in possession by Portland led to a chance from Lenhart, Ricketts there to smother the shot with Jean-Baptiste beaten. The Timbers responded with another dangerous cross from Zizzo, but an acrobatic overhead kick from Sam Cronin snuffed out the chance.
Wondolowski tested Ricketts in the 65th minute, the keeper spilling the ball in the box but thankful Jean-Baptiste provided cover. Wondolowski spurned another chance to claim the scoring record outright less than a minute later, a header inside of six yards hitting side netting with the goal at his mercy.
As Yallop made his first change with Khari Stephenson for Lenhart, the miss proved more painful in the 66th minute, a mistake in the back giving Dike an opening in San Jose’s box. The striker’s first shot was ably saved by Busch, but Dike put the Earthquakes to the sword as he slotted home the rebound.
Cue celebrations in the opposite North End, clouds of green smoke enveloping a crowd willing the ball into the goal.
The equalizer seemed to wake up San Jose, who nearly made an instantaneous reply as a cross appeared destined for the far post top corner, supporters pleased to see Ricketts tip the ball over for a corner that was subsequently cleared.
San Jose’s second substitution came in the 73rd minute when Bernardez exited for Ike Opara, a like for like change aimed at preserving the starting centerback for the postseason. Eric Alexander became Portland’s first change three minutes later, Kalif Alhassan making his first appearance in over a month.
A Zizzo free kick delivery moments later found the head of Horst, the defender rising above Busch but unable to put the ball on frame. Opara repeated the feat directly after in Portland’s box, but was deemed offside in his attempt. A Smith cross then found Zizzo at the far post, but the winger was put off by his defender as his effort put the ball harmlessly out into touch.
Mike Fucito replaced the goalscoring Dike in the 80th minute, Portland’s second change aimed at fresh legs nicking a matchwinner as time wore down. The next shot came from Wondolowski in the 84th, but the prolific forward lacked his typical accuracy, the Timbers Army chiding him as they caught a skied attempt.
Portland’s final substitution came as Kosuke Kimura departed in exchange for Brent Richards, Wilkinson adding another attacker in an attempt to claim victory late on, Zizzo tucking in behind as a makeshift right back.
Another inviting ball from Rafael Baca as full time expired forced Ricketts to tip over, Opara’s header on the following corner going straight at the keeper. Portland then earned a stoppage time corner when Nagbe’s near range shot was put over the line, a weak effort from Fucito easily collected by Busch in the aftermath.
Another Portland corner came as the waning seconds ticked off, but Zizzo sent the ball long and out of play with the ref whistling the end of the match moments later.
As Wondolowski received plaudits for equaling Lassiter’s record, Chara was serenaded by the adoring Portland faithful, who awarded the Colombian a Supporters Player of the Year belt for his appreciated efforts in the now concluded season.
For the top of table Earthquakes, it’s on to the postseason while Portland ponders progression from a much maligned record, the arrival Porter coming none too soon for Wilkinson, who’s eager to resume full time duty as general manager.
In a season marred by subpar performances and punctuated by Portland becoming only the fifth club in MLS history to play an entire season without earning a penalty decision, the offseason provides plenty of time to turn things around come spring.
Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Ricketts, D Kimura (Richards, 86), D Jean-Baptiste, D Horst ©, D Smith, M Zizzo, M Alexander (Alhassan, 75), M Chara, M Nagbe, F Dike (Fucito, 80), F Mwanga
Substitutes Not Used: GK Bendik, D Kawulok, D Wallace, F Rincón
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Four players, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Dike, 2); FOULS: 12 (Alexander, 3); OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 8; SAVES: 3
SJ: GK Busch, D Beitashour, D Bernardez (Opara, 73), D Hernandez, D Morrow, M Chavez (Garza, 80), M Baca, M Cronin, M Salinas, F Wondolowski ©, F Lenhart (Stephenson, 66)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Newton, D Zayner, M Ring, F Pizarro
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Wondolowski, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (Wondolowski, 2); FOULS: 14 (Lenhart, 4); OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 5; SAVES: 1
Referee: Mark Geiger
Assistant Referees: Ian Anderson, Fabio Tovar
4th Official: David Gantar