3 Goals and 3 Points: Timbers Remain Unbeaten on the Road
On the early eve of April 27, Caleb Porter and his Portland Timbers Football Club went into the Cauldron at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas and went home victorious with a rare win on the road.
Despite the victory, the match started off with a bit of a bang for Sporting KC and their fans. Chance Myers scored the first official league goal of his career after just 45 seconds of regulation off a Matt Besler laser-like throw in.
Portland fans may remember Myers as the lone goal scorer last season in PTFC’s home win when he accidentally scored against his own team. From its onset, this game looked quite similar to past Timbers road games. But things were to be different this evening.
PTFC’s midfield and offensive attack dominated much of the possession through most of the match. Indeed, SKC’s attack led by Graham Zusi put up a fight along with fellow possession minded players such as Orion Rosell Argerich and Benny Feilhaber. The main issue for both teams however was defending in high-pressure situations.
The Timbers’ pressure never let up despite the quick tally against them. Ryan Johnson had a bit of a scare for Kansas City around the 9th minute when his challenge was defended in the box. Also, Rodney Wallace had a left footed bomb from about 22 yards that was saved by a diving keeper Jimmy Nielson.
Twenty- four minutes into the game, Portland’s Ryan Johnson headed in their much-needed equalizer off a corner kick by Argentine midfielder Diego Valeri. It was almost saved, but its pace was too much for Feilhaber since he could only try to defend the strike with his head.
Just 4 minutes later, Sporting got back on the scoreboard to take the lead 2 to 1. On a free kick about 40 yards from goal, Zusi knocked a hard pass on the ground to the perimeter of the penalty box. Feilhaber got to it first and flicked the ball, which landed perfectly for defender Aurelien Collin. He poked it in the direction of an un-marked Chance Myers, who made Portland pay for their sloppy marking from about 6 yards. The only player near Myers was Futty Danso, who looked confused and unable to find the ball -- and once he did it was too late.
Myers and SKC looked to take back the momentum from their Rose City guests. But in classic style, PTFC exploited one of Kansas City’s rare weaknesses; the fast break. Like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, the Timbers’ Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe were able to use their speed as an advantage over their foes. By the 30th minute it seemed as if SKC’s defense was confused and unable to adapt to the changes or the excellent ball distribution from Valeri.
At the 32nd minute, yet again Portland was able to take off on a counter attack. Valeri found a passing lane in the back line and Johnson was able to run it down. Nagbe closely chased behind to provide a possible square ball if Johnson was unable to shoot. Nielsen successfully cut off any angle to shoot from but he over committed when he went to ground. Luckily Nagbe was able to get a foot on Johnson’s pass to put it into an empty net. All it took was 6 touches on the ball, consisting of three passes, to get the equalizing goal during this counter attack.
For the remainder of the first half and the first twelve minutes of the second, it was much of the same. Portland and SKC exchanged possession, and the majority of the battle was fought in the midfield. Both teams created chance after chance but neither keeper was really pressured until Diego Chara intercepted a pass intended for Paulo Nagamura.
Rosell was able to pressure Chara momentarily, but the Portland midfielder was able to get past him. The second he beat his man, Chara looked up to see a charging Rodney Wallace. Chara sent him a pass that was spot on and all Rodney needed to do was wait for Nielsen to commit. When the Danish keeper went to ground, Wallace put it in the back of the net. The crowd was stunned, and the traveling members of the Timbers Army were sent into ecstasy. For the second time this season, Wallace had scored a much needed road goal. But there was plenty of time left; a whopping 32 minutes.
In the 71st minute, Porter was forced to replace what appeared to be a badly injured Futty Danso. While attempting to clear a ball from deep within the box, Danso’s left knee buckled and bent in a direction it was not supposed to bend. To adjust to this and go into a defensive mode of tactics, Andrew Jean-Baptiste came on, as did Ben Zemanski for Ryan Johnson who deserved the break. Diego Valeri was also subbed off as Frenchman Frederic Piquionne came on for a shift in defensive formation.
Portland’s history of parking the bus has not always been successful. As play-by-play announcer John Strong mentioned during the San Jose game, Portland had yet to give up a goal in the last 30 minutes-- but they did in the 93rd minute to lose the victory to San Jose for a draw. This must have been the focus of training as Porter was seen on the sidelines directing his staff on the pitch.
Sporting Kansas City did not let up. They wanted to protect their current home record. At this early point in the season, they were not only undefeated, but also had yet to concede a home goal. But this game had been nothing like the prior three for the team and their loyal fan base. So when the 4th official held up 5 minutes of stoppage, they got what they desired -- more time to score. All Portland fans could do was watch, hope and pray to the soccer gods to let it be Portland’s night.
The pressure was intense and Sporting was pushing their players as high up as possible. At the 91st minute goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was asked one more time to make what could be another candidate for save of the week. Defender Seth Sinovic sent a left footed cross into the area near the penalty spot. Some how Collin got his head on it while being sandwiched between PTFC’s Baptiste and Mikael Silvestre. And color commentator Robbie Earle was correct: it was an “absolutely magnificent save.”
This did not end the threat from Sporting KC. At the 94th minute mark, Mechack Jerome cannon-like shot awkwardly bounced off the pitch and Ricketts did not securely get a hand on it, forcing him to scramble to get it under control.
When game official Hilario Grajeda blew his whistle to end play, it officially made this win a bit of history for Portland. They currently hold a 6 game un-beaten streak (the longest in MLS team history) and still remain the only team in MLS not to have lost on the road this season. Their record of 3 wins, 1 loss and 4 ties now puts them into 3rd place in the west.
For Sporting Kansas City, they were handed their first back-to-back losses of the season. In this short stretch they allowed 5 goals when prior to these two matches they only allowed 3 goals in 7 games.
Speaking to the press at the end of the match, Coach Porter stated, “Tonight’s result shows us we can go into any game, against any team, home or away and play our identity and not hope to win but to expect to win.” He added, “If we perform like we did tonight we will be a tough team to beat.” To conclude he said, “You can see our guys are loving their football and they are really enjoying it. And when you enjoy it, the better you play and you see that in our group. There is a great spirit, good camaraderie in the locker room and the guys are having fun.”
Portland returns to play on Thursday May 2, when the New England Revolution come to the Rose City. For Sporting Kansas City, their next match is set for May 5 against Chivas USA.