By Niall McCusker
Derby games don’t usually follow the form book, but no one was quite expecting this goal-fest. After 15 minutes it looked like it might finish about six each, it could have done, but in the end both teams only managed to tally four goals.
This was possibly the most entertaining home game since Portland entered the MLS era. Aficionados of the defensive arts would probably prefer a game like the high quality nil-nil draw when Real Salt Lake visited last year, but most people like goals and this game provided plenty!
As polite hosts the Timbers allowed the visitors to open the scoring, Anibaba completely unmarked at the far post was allowed time and space to volley a left footed effort across goal were it was gratefully tapped in by Portland old-boy Kenny Cooper. Classy as always, Cooper kept the celebration to a minimum in front of the home crowd.
Porter has seemed exasperated at times when continually asked about set-piece defending, but it is this kind of marking, or lack thereof, that makes the question keep coming up. An enterprising fan could almost have run down from the front row of the Timbers Army in the time it took the hanging corner to reach Anibaba and still got closer to him than any of the Portland starters.
However, Porter deserves enormous credit for his adjustments to the offense, starting Nagbe on the left was a masterstroke, he and Harrington kept Yedlin completely pinned back and forced to focus on defense, which is not his strongest attribute. On the right Alhassan got a well earned start and Powell was preferred to Jewsbury at right back, while not as productive as the left side the two youngsters combined well and justified their selection.
The Portland coach was fined by the league this week after criticizing the refereeing in recent games, among his gripes was the lack of protection afforded to Nagbe. He may regard it as money well spent after Azira was quickly booked for a couple of early fouls on the Portland left winger.
Portland’s equalizer came from an unlikely source, Diego Chara stripped Peneda of the ball and advanced toward the top of the box before unleashing a powerful low shot, Frei got a hand to it but could not prevent the Colombian from celebrating his birthday with a goal. The throw-in to Peneda was a good example of why defensive throw-ins need to go up the line and not directly across the field, if something goes wrong you now have two defending players out of position and are in serious trouble.
Powell started very confidently and showed a nice range of passing, one superb cross field ball to Nagbe lead to a shot off the post as the early excitement showed no signs of dropping off. A few minutes later another interchange between Nagbe and Harrington lead to Portland’s second, Harrington’s low cross did not look especially dangerous as it arrived behind Valeri and he was tightly marked, but the maestro demonstrated his return to form with a quick turn and unstoppable shot to the top corner from his ‘weaker’ left foot.
Harrington got five crosses into the box from close to the end line in the first fifteen minutes of the game – this kind of penetration is eventually going to be rewarded. Porter’s decision to play Nagbe and Alhassan as more traditional wingers and go with a game-plan based on speed, saw Fernandez relegated to the bench and Valeri seemed to relish the extra room in the middle.
Portland were the better team but a defensive error from Paparatto allowed Dempsey a simple chance to equalize. He passed the ball directly to a Seattle player and as with Chara’s goal when you lose the ball in your own half, bad things usually happen. Paparatto often looks to be playing very well, but, unforgivably for a defender, the good play has been interspersed with basic mistakes on tackling, marking and in this case passing. He needs a solid, mistake-free game soon or he is in danger of falling into that most dangerous category of player, a central defender who looks good for eighty-nine minutes of every game.
Matters could have been worse at halftime for the home team if not for a couple of excellent saves by Weber. He will likely hand the reins back to Ricketts next week, but despite conceding six goals in two games the stand-in keeper did well.
The excitement continued at the start of the second half, two early goals had the TV replay crew and Timber Joey working as hard as the players.
Chara was not done, Seattle still did not respect his shooting prowess backing off him as he advanced once again to the edge of the box and this time fired into the top corner. Since pre-season it has been noticeable that Chara is breaking forward more than last year, now we see the reason, he has found his long-lost shooting boots.
Barely a minute later Urruti got in on the act, sneaking in to rob Anibaba and strolling confidently toward the box, he curled a genuinely world-class finish past a helpless Frei. For a striker with no goals to his name this season it was a remarkably cool bit of work, no hesitation or second guessing himself, he knew exactly what he wanted to do and executed it perfectly. Where has this ruthless Maxi been hiding?
Like Chara’s first goal, these are not flukes, nor can they simply be dismissed as Seattle mistakes, they are a reward for the high pressure system and Portland will hope to keep adding to this tally of ‘turn-over goals’ as the season progresses.
How would Portland play with an unfamiliar lead? Very well as it turned out, they kept the passing crisp and the tempo high and could have had a fifth after a towering Paparatto header from a corner hit the bar and then Yedlin’s face before bouncing out. The home fans appealed for the goal, but like most things in the game, Grajeda appeared to get this one right.
Seattle had made adjustments after falling two behind, Neagle coming in for Cooper and Dempsey dropping into ‘the hole’ as a withdrawn striker, a position he where he did his best work in the EPL. Seattle had to dig deep as Portland’s purple patch continued after their goals, but the changes Schmid made would eventually pay dividends.
A Martins miss was the start of Seattle’s resurgence with fifteen minutes to go, an amazing ball from Dempsey should have been easily dispatched and it looked like Portland’s day. But Seattle now started to dominate and the two goal cushion seemed like it would be needed.
Portland had owned the wings for eighty minutes but Neagle started to cause Harrington problems and had Yedlin at last getting forward to provide support. This side was the source of Seattle’s two killer goals; a Neagle cross leading to Dempsey’s second and minutes later Yedlin cut into the box and a clumsy foul from Zemanski gave the Texan the chance to complete his hat-trick from the spot.
Zemanski had just come in for Nagbe who had picked up a slight knock and it was unfortunate for the Timbers that such a key player had to come out of the game just as Seattle were starting to turn the screw.
Seattle deserve credit for their fight-back, but it was a harsh lesson in late game management for the Timbers and could even have been worse as Martins’ deflection on Yedlin’s shot was inches wide at the death.
Porter deserves praise for the success of his starting line-up but perhaps an earlier change could have helped to preserve the lead. Fernandez’s slower more deliberate style has maybe been stalling Portland’s fast moving, dynamic offense so far this season. But with a two goal lead his ball retention could have lowered the game’s tempo and stifled Seattle’s comeback.
The Timber’s coach will be happy not to have to answer any more questions about why his offense is not firing, but the enquiries will now focus on the other end of the field. Set-piece defending, individual errors and how to track a deep lying forward might all feature on the training ground this week.
Portland should have had three points from this game and it will be cold comfort to them that they played their part in what will go down as a classic Cascadian encounter.
Also See: Hindsight United: Trouble In Timberlandia on Soccerly