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Timbers keep streak alive, beat Chivas USA

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Don Ryan / The Associated Press
Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson celebrates after scoring a goal late in Sunday's match against Chivas USA. The Timbers won 3-0.
Don Ryan / The Associated Press Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson celebrates after scoring a goal late in Sunday's match against Chivas USA. The Timbers won 3-0.

After completing three games in eleven days, the Portland Timbers hosted Chivas USA on Sunday May 12th. It was Mother’s Day and this matinee was not one to miss. Playing in front of their 40th consecutive sellout, PTFC defeated the Goats three goals to zero.

Prior to the match, both teams could not have had opposite situations on their hands. For Portland, they extended their undefeated streak to eight games while on the road in Dallas. They tied the leading MLS club one to one.

Chivas USA however, faced a Sporting Kansas City team that wanted to get back to their winning ways. SKC got what they wanted by handing Chivas an old fashioned drubbing with a final score of 4 to nil. But that was not what else the Goats lost.

Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was awarded a straight red by referee Baldomero Toledo for his challenge on SKC’s Paulo Nagamura. In his place during his one game suspension in Portland was the same back up from the match in Kansas City, Patrick McClain.

When the match official, Silviu Petrescu, began the match in Portland, McClain’s existence on the pitch was a bit of a mystery. Would he play similar to how he did against SKC or would he be prepared and confident goalkeeper as declared on his team’s webpage? Both teams would find out fairly quickly.

After about one minute and forty seconds, McClain got hung out to dry by an ill-advised challenge. This exposed his goal and fortunately for him and Chivas USA, Portland was not able to get a very early goal. This was not his only moment of nerves getting the best of him. There was at least five more occasions where his mistakes could have led to goals or at least lost possession to Portland. Despite the dodgyness of his goalkeeping skills, he held a clean sheet for the first thirty minutes.

The crossbar helped him a bit too in the 31st minute when Diego Valeri, off of a counter that consisted of five players that almost made  a dozen touches, fired off a beauty that was rejected by the woodwork. In three short minutes thereafter, Portland went ahead off of a precise strike by Rodney Wallace.

Ryan Johnson lofted the ball from the center of the pitch over Chivas’ three man back line. All Wallace had to do was nudge the ball with his head to keep it in front of him. McClain charged out to take away a shooting angle, but Wallace was able to knock the ball with his left foot with just enough behind it to get past the net minder but stay below the crossbar. The Timbers got the momentum they desired.

The remaining eleven minutes of the first half was similar to the first thirty-four. Portland dominated possession and Chivas tried to create a log jam in the middle of the pitch with a five man midfield. But all that did was caused them to be quite defensive minded with little attack.

By the end of the half, Portland dominated with twelve attempted shots to two. They  did indeed only get four on target but they held the momentum. Also, the Goats lacked possession and when they did, they only connected 59% (68 of 115) of their passes compared to Portland connecting 84% (209 of 248). Their inability to connect was all what Portland needed to control the flow. They held possession 67% of the time and forced eight corner kicks to Chivas earning a meager two.

Something needed to change for Chivas. When both teams came out of their locker rooms, what they needed was something in the attacking game. Forward Jose Correa was added into the game for Giovani Casillas, who essentially was a non-factor.

Portland on the other hand did not make any changes at the half. Where they needed to improve was in the finishing game and keep McClain under stress. After all, he had the Timbers Army to his back, a fate no keeper would want to stomach during his first professional start.

Pressure indeed was the focus on Coach Caleb Porter’s mind. So successful was the attack and possession of his team that Chelis was forced to make a substitution twenty minutes into the second half. It appeared as the pace of the match prevented Chivas’ strikers from being able to keep up with the flow. Tristan Bowan was taken out for Jose Manuel Rivera, a player with experience in Europe and in Mexico. Unfortunately for Chivas, it wouldn’t matter.

Diego Valeri has been the playmaker for the team all season. He also has scored some fairly important goals besides his stellar ability to pass. This late afternoon, his goal would be defining moment for the game’s outcome.

Near the 70th minute of the match, Darlington Nagbe took a dropped pass from Ryan Johnson on their right flank of the pitch. He saw Wallace coming towards him and squaring his hips up ready to take a pass. Nagbe did not hesitate. The second the ball got to his feet, Wallace made a cheeky turn putting the ball to his left foot. Valeri made a run through the line and at the right time, with the right pace Wallace threaded the needle and Diego did not disappoint the favor. There was nothing McClain could do. Two to zero for Portland.

For the remaining twenty minutes of the match, Chivas was on their heels. Their game plans had failed and essentially were forced to park the bus for almost the entire match. They were winded, tired and out played. They posed really no threat. On the flipside, Portland dominated possession, cleaned up their finishing and kept a cooler head when times things could have gotten ugly.

Right before the end of stoppage time, Will Johnson was given a gift of a goal. His curler off of the top of the penalty box threaded between Chivas’ Correa and Portland’s Futty Danso just enough to shield it away from McClain’s vision. In the words of color commentator for the timbers Robbie Earle, it was “icing on the cake.”

Speaking to the press post game, Porter spoke about where he feels the team is currently at and where he feels his squad has the potential to achieve, “For me it was a good performance. There is still a lot more left in the tank. To me we are just scratching the surface.” He also added, “We’re not where we want to be yet, which is what makes it scary; we could be even better.”

For Portland, they have now extended their undefeated streak to nine games. With the victory and possession of second place in the Western Conference, they improve their overall record to 4 wins, 1 loss and 6 draws. They extend their goal differential to plus six and eighteen goals as a team (they scored thirty-four all together last season).

If what Porter says is true, it is tough to say where his team will finish. There are still quite a few games to play. In addition, there is only a four point spread from 2nd to 6th place. Simply said, it is early and it is very close. One or two games off form can make a team drop like a stone.  However, there is nothing dire at the moment. Soccer is a game of chance and when a team gets as many as Portland had this match, scoring three can happen (or none at all as seen against New England) regardless of the team.

For now, both teams get a much deserved break before their next league match. Chivas USA heads back to the Home Depot Center to face Western Conference for Real Salt Lake on the 19th. For Portland, they are up against a tough rival from Vancouver, Canada on the 18th.

There is nothing like a Cascadia Cup match and Portland has had a bit of luck while on the road versus the Whitecaps. Last season Jack Jewsbury secured the Cascadia Cup for Portland with a bomb from distance. Can the Timbers repeat the same or at least extend their undefeated streak to 10 games or will Vancouver be able to steal another win in back to back weeks?