The Portland Timbers rode out a first half goal from Kenny Cooper Saturday night at Santa Clara’s Buck Shaw Stadium after former Timber and now San Jose Earthquake Alan Gordon equalized in the second half as the two clubs divided the spoils with a point apiece. Following Wednesday’s explosive victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Timbers looked to be off to another rout before the Earthquakes made some tremors of their own to match the visitors’ intensity.
And after finding a winning combination after such a frustrating spell of the season, Timbers manager John Spencer would again be pressed into a change after Diego Chara was ineligible due to suspension for yellow card accumulation after exceeding the limit with a card against the Galaxy. With captain Jack Jewsbury still nursing a strained hamstring, the preferred central midfield pairing would make way for the able midfield deputy James Marcellin partnered with Lovel Palmer in the middle of the park.
With Palmer’s newly cemented right back role now vacant, Spencer would opt for Jeremy Hall over Steve Purdy in hopes the youngster could shake off his recent poor form. Mike Chabala, David Horst, and Eric Brunner would continue their duties on the backline, while on the wings Sal Zizzo and Darlington Nagbe again would patrol the flanks.
Up top, following productive outings in somewhat surprise starts against the Galaxy, Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza were fancied as the strike partnership for a second consecutive time after they’d looked to be out of favor in recent weeks. No doubt an assist for Cooper and a goal for Perlaza against LA helped ease Spencer’s concern over their inclusion, and it was their reborn chemistry that led to the opening goal.
Portland looked the more dangerous team early, and Perlaza in particular looked lively as he used his pace to blow past the San Jose backline on numerous occasions. To combat this, the Earthquakes were holding a high line to trap Cooper and Perlaza offside, but when Jeremy Hall’s exquisite through ball released Perlaza down the right wing in the 23rd minute, the forward timed his run to perfection to get in behind his marker. As San Jose defenders assumed the Colombian offside, he squared his cross to the top of the six for the simplest of tap-ins for a wide open Cooper who was rewarded for continuing his run.
While away day legends celebrated vociferously in the traveling Timbers Army section, Earthquake supporters and players alike held their hands in the air in vain hope of a belated offsides call that never materialized. The replay clearly showed Perlaza had checked his run, and to the home side’s chagrin their defense was simply caught napping as Portland would sieze the advantage all too easily. Perlaza would tally his first assist of the campaign, with Cooper the most thankful beneficiary as the striker found the net for the fourth time this season, his first goal since April.
The home side would threaten Troy Perkins in goal with several attempts to tie things up, but it was the visitors’ edge that nearly doubled just before the break. When Mike Chabala’s cross found the head of Eric Brunner, the centerback was unlucky not to keep his shot down on what was essentially a free header in the six yard box. With a lead at halftime, however, few in green would be complaining of the scoreline as the Timbers looked poised to notch only their second victory on the road this campaign.
As play resumed post intermission, Portland continued their momentum as Hall again found Perlaza in space, but this time he was alone and couldn’t find the back of the net as his near post shot was parried into the side netting by San Jose goaltender Jon Busch in the 52nd minute. To this point the Timbers looked in command as they had kept San Jose’s lethal attacker Chris Wondolowski relatively silent, but not long after Scott Sealy departed for Gordon in the 57th minute, the Earthquakes would draw level.
San Jose’s equalizer nearly came in the 62nd minute as Sam Cronin’s nicely bent shot from the top of the box caught Perkins out and nearly punished Portland, but to their relief the ball hit off the crossbar and safely sailed out of bounds. That relief would be short lived, however, as the Earthquakes would continue to press the attack and received their just desserts after Steven Beitashour too easily skipped past Nagbe on the right wing to deliver an incisive cross.
As the ball sailed in toward the near post, Brunner would be given a clinic in both positioning and finishing as Gordon cut in front of the Portland defender and expertly redirected the ball off his head to the far post side netting past the outstretched gloves of a beaten Perkins. Brunner would hold his head in his hands, perhaps further ruing his missed opportunity late in the first half that may have put the game out of reach, and Portland would begin to question if their old habit of losing leads had returned.
Spencer would do his best to avert any such reversion to said form, replacing Nagbe in the 74th minute with Kalif Alhassan, and then sitting Perlaza in the 80th minute as Bright Dike was given his MLS debut following return from Achilles tendon surgery. Both substitutions provided a positive impact, the first a Dike a breakaway attempt that was denied by the Earthquakes’ Bobby Burling who did well to track back with a last ditch tackle at the edge of the box.
With time running down Portland made one last surge as Hall again rampaged down the right, working well with Cooper and Palmer to string passes through the San Jose midfield, with Hall getting the ball back near the endline as he sent a forty-five degree ball back across the box. Dike would smartly dummy the ball, and Palmer would strike the return pass on frame, only to be blocked by Beitashour’s bravely placed backside.
Palmer would get another chance as the rebound fell right back into his path, but his second attempt was equally courageously caromed by a diving Brad Ring, and a final rebound would fall to the feet of Alhassan, whose curling effort was deflected out for a corner when it looked destined for the top corner. The initial two blocks both brought cries of handball from the Timbers, but the official would hear nothing of it as he showed Hall a second yellow for dissent of the non call. Down to ten men, Zizzo’s ensuing corner would be cleared by San Jose, who would make one more foray forward that Portland cleared before the final whistle blew.
Although anything would seem a letdown following the shock win against the league leaders in midweek, the promising returns from an away draw were that the strikers have regained confidence, the team forced the tempo for much of the match, and despite losing their lead they didn’t collapse and still looked worthy of snatching all three points late on. In the end, the contest was evenly fought and a share of the points was an equitable result, and certainly not the worst start to a three game road trip.
Away to the Houston Dynamo and then Sporting KC before returning home for a Cascadia Derby with the Vancouver Whitecaps at the end of the month, the Timbers will likely shuffle the lineup deck further as players return from injury and suspension, giving Spencer a welcome selection headache. Cooper and Perlaza have likely done enough to retain their starting roles, but unfortunately for Hall, for all his positive contribution on the evening his lack of discipline has forced him back into temporary exile. Chara is due to return, and Palmer can slot back to the right of defense, but the Jamaican’s play in midfield did impress and the experiment may lead to future cameos in that role.
Should the gaffer continue with his more recent luck, he may just keep Portland’s playoff hopes alive with a positive run of results in August. Given this is the longest road trip since the start of the season, it’s a chance for this group to band together and fight for wins on the road as heartily as they do in front of the home support. Here’s to the traveling Timbers Army for bringing the show on the road and letting the boys in green know that Portland is with them wherever they may go.