The Portland Timbers lost 2-1 against Chivas USA Saturday night, forgoing a halftime lead after another second half capitulation doomed them to a third straight loss. Kris Boyd put the home side in front less than twenty minutes into the opening period, but an equalizer by Alejandro Moreno two minutes after the interval and a match winner from Nick LaBrocca ten minutes from time saw the visitors claim all three points.
The match had started brightly for the boys in green, Franck Songo’o earning his first start on the wing, a personnel change that allowed Darlington Nagbe to partner Boyd up top in the only change from the disappointing loss to Real Salt Lake the Saturday prior.
Early dominance in possession and chances eventually culminated in the 16th minute, when Boyd pounced on a loose ball in the box after Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy lost his grip on a Lovel Palmer cross as he collided with teammate James Riley. The ball spilled from the netminder’s gloves to Boyd’s feet, who calmly took a touch before sidefooting past the hopeless dive of centerback Rauwshan Makenzie.
The Timbers Army wouldn’t care that the first time their club scored before the opposition this season was courtesy of a defensive miscommunication, but rather reveled that it came at the expense of former Seattle Sounder Riley, who was as despondent as the normally unflappable Kennedy. Having conceded first in every match this season, the proverbial monkey had finally been lifted off Timber backs.
Portland looked to build on their lead before the break yet couldn’t capitalize on their momentum, Eric Brunner particularly aggrieved after he was taken down in the box while attempting to head home, the second such infraction ignored by the officials in consecutive matches. Chivas, meanwhile, showed flashes of the barnstorming style that would undo the Timbers in the end, a couple of near misses alerting the hosts to their guests’ potential attacking danger.
Rodney Wallace would exit at halftime after picking up a knock, replaced by Mike Chabala, who would log his first action in the regular season. Presented with the opportunity to cement their lead following intermission, warning signs would go unheeded as the bright lights of the Fortress of Thorns seemed to capture the defense gazing into the stars while Chivas came flying out of the gates.
No player was more culpable of the deer in headlights syndrome than right back Lovel Palmer, who was guilty of failing to close down halftime substitute Ryan Smith, who provided inch perfect crosses to set up Moreno and LaBrocca’s headers in the 48th and 82nd minutes, respectively.
On the equalizer, the Goats wasted no time getting back in the match once the teams changed direction, Smith quickly turning Palmer inside out to pick out Moreno in the middle of the box, where neither Brunner nor Troy Perkins could intervene before the ball found the net off the Venezuelan’s forehead.
As the match wore on, Chivas pressed their advantage and always looked more likely to score, a timid Timbers side a shadow of the torrid one on display in the initial period. While everything had seemingly gone so well for Portland early on, after the goal nothing did. Songo’o would pull up lame after chasing a ball to the endline, shortly after replaced by Kalif Alhassan in the 62nd minute.
Spencer would try to make his own luck by bringing on Jorge Perlaza for Eric Alexander in the 76th minute, but only moments after using his final substitution, Palmer would have to leave the field with an injured wrist. After several minutes getting taped up, the right back would return to even the numbers, but he may well wish he had simply stayed on the sideline.
Just after his reinsertion the second goal came, and again Smith delivered while Palmer took up a position nearly as far away as the spectators in the stands, where Chabala may as well have been sitting with him as he was beaten to Smith’s inswinging ball by LaBrocca, who thunderously headed past Perkins.
Palmer was so slow to react to Smith’s pace that some audibly wondered if the Jamaican was longing for his homeland after the interval, perhaps because the Chivas winger played him like a steel drum for the entirety of the second half.
The defeat was the second in a row at JELD-WEN Field, and somehow after strengthening their lineup in the offseason the squad is suffering through a poorer start to the season than last year, their first in the MLS. As heartbreaking as the RSL loss was with its late drama, this was even more disheartening as an air of inevitability hung over the stadium once the equalizer was allowed.
Manager John Spencer levied criticism on his players after the match for not playing like men, calling them out for not taking responsibility when it mattered defensively, and even went as far as saying they played like an expansion team. His Scottish compatriot Boyd echoed the gaffer’s words, which have begun to sound like a broken record only five matches into the campaign. It’s an ominous theme song for a club whose expectations were so lofty after a gala opening night victory, for the first time in their brief history in the league they now possess a losing record at home.
Portland must now spend a week preparing for another staunch test, an away fixture at the defending champions next weekend. The Los Angeles Galaxy have struggled so far as injury woes have decimated their usually impenetrable defense, and after losing 3 out of 4 matches they are equally desperate to end a poor run of form.
Prior to the season, no one would have predicted Portland and LA to be sitting bottom of the table in the Western Conference. If the Timbers can’t muster the desire to play a complete 90 minutes and earn full points on the road, they could suffer the same fate as their visit to the Home Depot Center a year ago, and supporters will continue be looking up the standings from an unsatisfying position.