Wallace shines again: PTFC extend streak against struggling DC United
By Philip Mitchell
During a season of joy for the Portland Timbers, not much can be said for DC United’s. Before the analysis of their match up, something has to be said about what is happening to a team that was once such a dominant force.
What is taking place in MLS’s first dynasty is saddening. Is it really that bad there? They have lost 8 of 9 matches (including the match against Portland). The roster is full of talent, but where are they? Does anyone care? Or has the team pretty much given up? If I was Ben Olsen I would be afraid for my job. It is he who is responsible for getting them back on track.
Simply put, what was once one of the most dominant forces in American soccer has become a pathetic laughing stock of suck. It is embarrassing to see the Timbers Army almost outnumber the crowd, and the empty seats at RFK speak volumes for how the people in the region feel about it.
There were over 14,000 fans reportedly in attendance, but you sure couldn't see them on the broadcast. Something has to be done. Otherwise, its time to start prepping for next year, and that means people are going to be sent packing. And that is a dirty rotten shame.
When the two teams faced off in DC, both teams had earned draws with their most recent opponents, Portland came back a man down against Cascadian rival Vancouver Whitecaps, and DC was lucky to draw against Sporting Kansas City. Things looked good for DC, but they had some bad luck yesterday; they had to play against Portland.
Taking their 10 game undefeated streak into the nation’s capital city, Caleb Porter hoped to have his squad prepped for the franchise’s first win against DC. It’s safe to say that United also wanted a win, but hey are in turmoil.
The match was fairly open. Portland did not seem to fall into that groove we've become accustomed to this season. Part of the reason might have been that regular midfielder Diego Valeri was scratched late with a hamstring injury. Another may have been the new addition to Portland’s line up of Pa-Modou Kah. There seemed to be a chemistry issue when it came to the middle part of the final third of the pitch. Ball distribution was lacking, and the long ball was utilized far more often than normal. Regardless, Portland seemed to look like the better team during the first 20 minutes.
Around this time of the match, things started to click. Portland was awarded a throw in around midfield. Frederic Piquionne, making a rare start, was tossed the ball. He immediately charged towards the goal. None of the three defenders in his close proximity seemed to want to challenge him for the ball, and he saw Rodney Wallace make a back door run and gently passed it to him. Wallace took a touch with his left, giving him room to really give it a boot. He did not disappoint the traveling fans. His near side upper V strike surprised fans and DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid alike. As the announcer for DC’s television said over the air, “Wallace had too much time, space and now he has a goal.”
Portland grabbed the momentum, as DC's struggles to prevent yet another early goal continued. Eleven of twenty-one goals against them have been scored in the first 30 minutes of play. Their inability to match the challenge was evident. Portland pressed and DC tried to counter but their attacks fizzled. The only real shot that DC was able to get off was by Kyle Porter, who had a fairly good match despite the miss. It did appear to take a flick against Portland’s defender Andrew Jean Baptiste's hand, but none of the officials saw it.
The remaining 20 of the first half was box to box open play where attacks died around the 18 due to mistakes made by attackers on both teams. Yet again, for the 6th or 7th game, Portland’s final touch in the 18 was poor. Their finishing was off base and disappointing. Yes, there was pressure by defending players, but the numbers do not lie. Portland only got 25% of their shots on frame. But that was not bad compared to DC. Getting 17 shots off is pretty good, but Timber defenders blocked 8 of them, and United was only able to get 2 shots on frame, for an abysmal 12% rate.
The second half picked up the pace a bit. Ben Olsen put in Brazilian Raphael Augusto, a product of the infamous Brazilian side Fluminense. His style opened up the play a bit more and became the focus of DC’s attack. His intentions were serious, and it made one almost wonder if he was the missing piece of the puzzle for DC. Portland countered this with tactical adjustments that included more of a defensive mindset in the midfield that consisted of more of a counter attack style. In a matter of minutes, his pressure was all for naught. The frustration was mounting on United and it showed.
Thirteen minutes into the second half, Portland extended their lead as Darlington Nagbe knocked a cheeky one in goal, nutmegging Hamid from an off balance long lob from forward Ryan Johnson. The goal was impressive, but so was Nagbe’s ability to butt through three defenders, all of whom seemed to want to go to ground late in a desperate measure to stop him. But he was too far away and easily doubled the Timbers' lead.
The momentum was shifting back in Portland’s favor, so Olsen went back to his bench at the 65th minute and sent in one of the faces of the league, Dwayne DeRosario, a man who for some reason has managed to score several important goals against Portland over the past few seasons. Again, this had little effect on DC’s ability to prevent the clean sheet.
Though DC would have several more attempts, this too had little effect.. There was a period where David Ruiz looked like a more youthful version of himself and made some amazing runs and passes. One into the box was so good that even target Chris Pontius must have been surprised. He failed to keep composure and put it into the 30th row. That could have been a game changer, but despite the close call, Portland was the better team on the afternoon.
In the end, Portland’s boys did what they were paid to do. They remain undefeated on the road, and are the only team who can make that claim this season. They are also the only team in the league with only one loss. And thanks to the draw by Real Salt Lake at the hands of Chicago, Portland is back up to second place. When league play picks up after US Open Cup play on March 29 (and after a bye next week), they begin a bit of a road trip by venturing to Chicago on June 8. As for DC, they travel to Chicago the week prior for a battle of the Eastern Conference basement.
Timber fans should be on cloud 9 after this weekend, and they deserve it. However, Chicago is just the first of 3 road games to be played during the next 5 league matches. Over that five-game stretch they have a huge test on their hands, facing current division leaders Dallas, as well as the LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, and the Columbus Crew.
June will not be easy for Portland and Porter, but what they have on their side is momentum.
That said, let me conclude with the following question; when will Valeri return from injury? They need their creative midfielder more than anything, even Rodney Wallace.