The Portland Timbers overcame a resilient San Jose Earthquakes side Tuesday night at JELD-WEN Field, winning 2-1 on goals from Danny Mwanga and captain Jack Jewsbury to quickly erase painful memories of their weekend defeat in Colorado.
Following the capitulation to the Colorado Rapids at the weekend, John Spencer rang the changes, some forced and some intentional, Lovel Palmer coming back into the fray for the suspended Diego Chara, Eric Alexander for Sal Zizzo, and Mwanga for Mike Fucito.
Fresh off a horrid performance in his last outing, Franck Songo’o was given a pass, nearly taking full advantage of the opportunity early on, putting a fierce drive just wide less ten minutes into the proceedings, then moments later reports came in that he’d won a ball on the defensive end to repel San Jose’s first sniff of the attacking third.
Soon after the Earthquakes started to impose themselves on the match, Troy Perkins required to clear for a corner as golden Boot leader Chris Wondolowski lay in wait at the far post. The ensuing delivery pinged through the box to the feet of former Timber Alan Gordon, whose shot was deflected and cleared to the hosts’ relief.
In the 15th minute Alexander beat San Jose stand-in netminder David Bingham when he cut back and fired to the near post, only for the woodwork to deny an opening goal. Portland were in the ascendancy six minutes later when Kris Boyd’s layoff looked enticing, but Darlington Nagbe’s finish was left wanting as it sailed wide.
The opposition started to make the Timbers sweat as the half hour marked approached, a dangerous ball deflecting off Gordon’s acrobatically heeled effort into the path of Shea Salinas at the back post, but Steven Smith did well to block his blast into the side netting.
As the corner was cleared, Alexander sent Songo’o into space down the right flank, where he repaid the manager’s faith and provided an inch perfect ball to the onrushing Mwanga, who made no mistake as he coolly sidefooted to find the back of the net with 29 minutes gone. The goal was the first for the recently signed Congolese striker, a dream finish for a player making his first start in front of the welcoming arms of his adopted hometown Timbers Army.
Portland continued the pressure shortly after the restart, Nagbe finding Jewsbury in acres of space, but his cross was pushed out for a corner. The inbound effort found the head of David Horst, who redirected off the turf and on frame only for San Jose to clear off the line, averting the danger.
The Earthquakes, the league’s most comfortable club playing from a losing position, tried to shift the momentum in their favor, only to run into a resolute Portland defense. The commitment was clear to see, the likes of Horst taking a bullet for the team as he used his face to turn back a blistering volley from just yards away in the 36th minute.
As the interval neared, San Jose brought wave after wave of attack, yet through luck and determination the Timbers resiliently kept them from finding the mark, Jewsbury providing a fine example as he swept away a dangerous cross from Salinas that slipped by everyone in the box as it sped across the goalmouth.
San Jose started the second half with intent, Khari Stephenson testing Perkins with a direct strike minutes after the break. Palmer responded immediately with a menacing shot that, while surprisingly minimal in its trajectory, still went straight into Bingham’s gloves.
The teams continued the theme of trading chances, Gordon looking at home as he attacked the North End, although unable to find the frame as he put a powerful header wide. Salinas beat Smith shortly after, but Horst denied to keep the clean sheet alive.
Songo’o retaliated with another strong run down the wing, picking out Mwanga again, but the striker’s shot caromed off the crossbar. Boyd fired the rebound back on frame with a fine header, the Quakes defense doing well to block as the ball fell to Alexander, who was whistled for offside in the 56th minute.
As the Timbers lined up to take a free kick earned just inside midfield in the 59th minute, the Quakes, lacking from incisive distribution, brought on assist leader Marvin Chavez for the ineffective Rafael Baca.
The change did little to effect Songo’o, who sent in the set piece to again deliver a superb ball, Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso’s challenge putting off Bingham just enough to force the keeper to bobble, and Jewsbury was first to pounce and poke home the loose ball for Portland’s second goal, the skipper’s first of the season.
Now trailing two-nil, San Jose inserted Steven Lenhart for Stephenson to turn things around, hopeful of maintaining their recent record of defying the odds with another come from behind performance to earn points. Spencer then countered by removing Smith for Mike Chabala at left back in the 62nd minute.
Sal Zizzo entered the match in the 71st minute when Songo’o went down injured, and the Quakes used the lull in play to catch the Timbers napping. A Justin Morrow cross was cleared at the far post and popped out to Chavez at the top of the eighteen, who put it through a crowd of players in the box before Gordon’s toe pushed it past Perkins in the 74th minute, offering a crucial lifeline to a now surging San Jose.
The Timbers missed a chance to regain a two goal cushion in the 77th, Mwanga cutting to the byline to cross to find Boyd, the Scot putting a header to the ball but also catching a foot to the forehead from San Jose centerback Victor Bernardez, the official seeing nothing wrong with the boot rising to eye level.
The match resumed apace as the Quakes brought another chance from deep, a deflection nearly catching Perkins out as the ball dropped harmlessly over the bar onto the top of the net.
San Jose manager Frank Yallop then made his last change as he pulled Jason Hernandez from defense to add numbers to the midfield with Tressor Moreno in the 85th minute. Spencer responded a minute later with Freddie Braun replacing Palmer, each manager utilizing their third and final substitution as the final minutes ticked off.
The proceedings got chippy in the waning moments, Lenhart and Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso scrapping as they jockeyed for position, handbags reminiscent of the recent Cascadia derby starting to surface before the referee’s cooler head prevailed, neither player booked despite the conflagration.
The officials then proceeded to draw the ire of the home support when six minutes of extra time were announced, nerves on edge as a skulking San Jose looked to salvage a share of the spoils. By this point, however, the North End was in full voice, and despite San Jose’s relentlessness, they found themselves up against it with the clock running down. Gordon rose to win another header, the home crowd thankful to see it go askew of goal.
It proved the last ditch effort for the visitors, the final whistle eventually blowing to let the Timbers redeem themselves from another disappointing road loss to keep their season from entering a downward spiral. The vital victory further added to their reputation as giant killers, San Jose joining a growing line of league leading clubs to see their winning streaks snuffed out at the Fortress of Thorns.
For Spencer, the win means vindication as he’s shown his side is capable of surmounting even the league’s best. For the players, it’s a much needed injection of confidence to boost their spirits as they take on yet another league power, a Real Salt Lake side that’s struggled of late.
Another solid performance at home, the Timbers now return to the road to answer the same nagging questions that have dogged them throughout the MLS era. The inability to carry home momentum on their travels will resurface as they prepare to travel to RSL at the weekend, but for now it’s a party in Portland.