Timbers continue undefeated streak with a draw against Chicago
Good teams find ways to win games, or at least not lose them. Nothing could be truer than that statement if you're the Portland Timbers or Chicago Fire after their June 8th draw.
Getting two come-from-behind second-half goals from hometown hero Mike Magee and Daniel Paladini secured the point for Chicago. Portland did go home with a point, but it felt more like a loss. Nevertheless, Porter and his squad kept their undefeated record on the road intact, as well as a 13 game unbeaten streak in all competitions.
On its face value, the game did contain more positives than negatives for Portland. They continued to score on the road. In addition, their 14 away goals lead the league and their goal differential on the road is also the best at plus 3. Players returning from injury performed at expectation or at least got quality time on the pitch.
Diego Valeri, who returned from a hamstring injury, was able to score the first goal of the match and logged in a little more than 60 minutes. It was almost hard to believe that he was a bit off match pace when he scored in the 33rd minute of play.
Catching up to a perfect headed pass from Frederic Piquionne, off of a long ball from goalkeeper Milos Kocic, Valeri showed why he is one of the league’s best signings of the year. His quick touches and ball re-directions got him enough space between Chicago’s Jalil Anibaba and Bakary Soumare to give it a go on the near post side of the goal. Fortunately for him, Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was not able to get a hand on the ball and the deflection off of the post was just enough to get it in the goal. Just for insurance reasons Piquionne tapped it in, but replays showed it had crossed the line … just barely.
Piquionne was expected to play this round, since regular starter Ryan Johnson was recently called up by Jamaica for their participation in World Cup qualifiers. One of the questions in the minds of many was whether Piquionne would have another performance like that in the Timbers rout of Wilmington during US Open Cup play. His play this evening was nowhere near that four-goal match. but his vision and effort led to the first and second goal by the Timbers.
When Ben Zemanski was signed by PTFC, some in the soccer punditry shrugged him off as being a sub to help facilitate the change to Caleb Porter’s system. As a graduate of the University of Akron, Porter’s former team, on paper that may have made sense. However, he has performed when it was needed. In the team’s only loss of the season, Zemanski assisted the lone goal scored by the team. And in this game against Chicago, he scored one heck of first touch long distance goal.
After chasing down a 58th minute pass from Valeri deep in Chicago’s defensive third, Piquionne dished the ball off towards the perimeter of the penalty box once his effort towards goal was denied by Chicago’s defenders. Coming to the ball at a full sprint, Zemanski shot the ball without hesitation on his first touch. The shot from about 25 yards was a screamer, and there was nothing Johnson could do to save it. Perfectly placed low and in the corner, the goal looked as if PTFC was walking away with the win. Unfortunately for Portland, though, Chicago had a bit of luck on their side for the remaining 30 minutes of the match.
At the time Mike Magee scored Chicago’s first goal, Timber keeper Kocic had played a pretty good match. He fingertip saved a curving drive early in the match when Chris Rolfe was handed a gift of a chance inside the box. Later on in stoppage time he was able to stop a driven cross from Patrick Nyarko, and prevented Sherjill MacDonald from possibly knocking in the winner. However, when needed most, he (or members of the squad that needed to be aware of his commands) were not paying attention.
On Magee’s goal, Kocic got a touch on the ball. He should have easily been able to cover it up, but there was a communication break down (or at least it appears that way in the replays). After a rough challenge on Diego Chara that could easily been called a foul, Alex placed a perfect through ball in Magee’s path. Portland’s Andrew Jean Baptiste tried his best to prevent Magee from getting the ball but instead got in the way of Kocic and he fumbled the ball. Like the poacher he has been for years, Magee took advantage of the mistake and scored. Kocic looked furious and he had every right to be. Not just at his young center back, but at himself. He eventually took a bit of the blame post game talking to members of the media. That should be sobering and reassuring for Portland fans about their backup.
On the second goal, Kocic and the rest of the Timbers must have failed to realize that the match referee had give Chicago the green light to take a shot at their discretion. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book.
The obvious shooter took the ball from the referee, Magee, and placed it at the spot of the foul. Almost instantaneously Paladini drove the ball to the near post catching everyone, even Magee, by surprise. It almost looked as if the Timbers were confused on how the wall was to be built. It did not even look like a wall. Kocic was not even on the right side of the goal. It appeared as if he was trying to protect the far post, which exposed the near post for the picking. Paladini’s left footed shot was perfect as it could be. It was in the back of the net before Kocic was near the place it crossed the line.
It was Portland’s game to protect with a two-goal lead, and they failed to do so. But it could have been a different game if their finishing had been in order. In the first five minutes of the match they hit the post three times. If just one of those had found its way into the goal, there would have been a totally different song and dance conducted post game. Yet again, the team got off double-digit shots and missed the frame over half of the time. Shooting 8 of 13 off frame is not that bad when you think of it -- not as poor as a few of the games where they got off close to 20 and had just 5 on frame. And the same could be said about Chicago. They had 12 of 19 either blocked or off frame.
After the match, Porter put a positive spin on the result. “Feels like a loss but it isn’t, which is great. A lot of teams have to take losses to learn lessons and we are learning lessons while getting points.” He also stated that the result was not “the end of the world” and that they have to keep their focus on the games ahead.
To get to the post season, MLS teams need to be able to win the tough games, and one wonders when the league’s leaders in draws are going to find those lost points biting them in the rear end.
But the world is not over. the season continues -- and unlike some of Portland’s rivals around the league, they are still alive in US Open Cup play. Staying undefeated on the road and holding a 13-game unbeaten streak is a huge achievement at this stage of the season. And earning a point on the road in MLS is no easy task.
I don’t like making predictions, but if Portland is able to keep this streak alive through the month of June, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Starting Wednesday with a US Open Cup match against the Sounders-killing Tampa Bay Rowdies, PTFC will have played four games by the 23rd -- against Dallas, LA Galaxy and Colorado. If they beat the Rowdies, add another on the 26th.
If they falter and finally lose a game, it will not be a big deal. What's important is how they handle the necessary work after a loss. If it is anything like what followed the loss to the Montreal Impact, could the Timbers Army be treated with another undefeated streak that goes double digits? Sure they could. However the question should be, how long?
July and August have not been nice to this organization during the past two seasons. July is jam-packed with two exhibitions and four regular season matches. August will be no cakewalk either, with four of the five scheduled games within 13 days.
But if June can be a success, with the proper lessons learned, and with proper form and health, the Timbers could keep their place in the top half of the Western Division. But those are big “ifs.”
Portland returns to regular season play on the 15th of June against FC Dallas. Will they get a win as payback for the draw in Frisco? Let me know…