—by Chris Rifer
On an April morning in a town southwest of Boston, a young upstart group of men stepped up to take on an elite group. They were outnumbered and outmatched. Our boys were routed. Sent packing with their tails between their legs, only hoping they might fight another day. That afternoon they dusted themselves off and took to the field again. This time, in the town of Concord, our boys stood tall. They won—sort of. Tactically, it was relatively inconsequential. The message it sent, however, was clear. Those rag-tag Americans meant business.
Saturday was the Portland Timbers’ Concord moment. It was a draw. One point. Still at the bottom of the table. But make no mistake; the Portland Timbers are here to compete.
The match got off to a familiar start. The first twenty minutes were pretty wide open, with both teams getting a couple chances and not much of the game being played in the middle third. The Timbers seemed to be asserting themselves, but in the 22nd minute, after the Timbers failed to clear a New England corner kick, Stephen McCarthy knocked home a volley from just outside the 18-yard box.
That was the end of the familiar script, however. The Timbers wouldn’t take long to respond. In the 38th minute, Kenny Cooper gained possession on the left side of the midfield, made a long diagonal run to the right side, and sent a ball into the box for Jeremy Hall. Like so many Timbers crosses in the past two weeks, Hall struggled to get a handle on Cooper’s cross. This time, however, he controlled it just enough to lay it off to an onrushing Jack Jewsbury, whose low strike snuck inside the right post and into the back of the net.
In the second half, the Timbers continued to assert themselves in possession. While the game turned more to the midfield, the Timbers’ new combination of Kalif Alhassan, James Marcelin, Jewsbury, and Jeremy Hall proved that they were capable of controlling a match in the midfield. The Timbers’ chances culminated in the 70th minute, when Kalif Alhassan’s free kick appeared to beat Revs keeper, Matt Reis, only to find the near post.
New England made the most of their possession in the second half, producing a number of scoring chances requiring the attention of Portland keeper, Jake Gleeson. The Revs nearly broke through in the 79th minute when Sainey Nyassi—twin brother of former Sounder Sanna Nyassi—pulled his shot wide, rolling perilously in front of goal.
In the end, however, the Timbers collected a well-earned point in Foxborough. The draw further builds to the momentum established in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Chivas USA in U.S. Open qualifying, and sets the table for the Timbers to open Jeld-Wen Field on April 14th.
- The team played with a confidence today that we hadn’t seen until now. Even after conceding the early goal, the Timbers quickly reestablished dominance and found an equalizer. There is a belief about this team that there wasn’t a week ago, and that appears to have made all the difference with results this week.
- John Spencer made a number of changes to the starting XI before the match, inserting James Marcelin in place of Peter Lowry, Kalif Alhassan for Ryan Pore, and David Horst instead of Kevin Goldthwaite. Each of the three replacements justified the boss’ moves, as the play in both the midfield and backline was the best we have seen it in regular season play this year.
- As Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo get healthy it is going to be interesting to see what John Spencer does with the wingers. Kalif Alhassan has had some moments of brilliance in both games this week, and considering his youth and potential the Timbers are certainly going to want to keep him on the field quite a bit. It seems that Zizzo and Nagbe would still be the likely starters on the wings, especially if the central midfield continues to play as well as they did against New England, but with those two coming back there is suddenly a glut of viable talent in the outside midfield.
- Troy Perkins is the starting goalkeeper. Jake Gleeson has certainly performed well, and has shown his tremendous potential. That said, there are still a number of situations in which Gleeson shows his youth. He seems a little bit reluctant to cover up the ball in traffic, often preferring to resort to a sliding tackle, which with an unlucky bounce can yield a rebound goal. Make no mistake, Gleeson has been good—and at times fantastic—but Perkins provides a consistency on goal that Gleeson hasn’t developed yet.
- After watching the replay on Root Sports, I think this was the team’s best all-around game by far. The individual mistakes that had plagued the side the last two weeks were minimized. Really, nobody had a really bad game. It was the first time all season that I felt like the Timbers were competitive at 11 positions on the field.
Jake Gleeson, 5.5 Made some very nice saves, but at times was a bit of an adventure in goal. Still, the upside on this kid is tremendous, and doesn’t seem to wide-eyed.
Rodney Wallace, 5.5 His best match of the season. Didn’t look to get forward as much as he did against Toronto and Chivas, but looked substantially more reliable in defense.
David Horst, 5.5 There were a few runs that broke the backline early, but as the game went along the backline looked more and more organized. Horst looks to have substantially more chemistry with Brunner than Goldthwaite. At this point, it is the Horstache’s job to lose.
Eric Brunner, 5 Had a couple rough moments today, losing his footing a couple times in crucial spots. Still, he was the leader of a backline that ably did its job in front of Jake Gleeson.
Steve Purdy, 5 Probably his most nonchalant performance of the season, and at times seemed to struggle with the pace of Nyassi, but still made a number of his signature timely tackles.
Kalif Alhassan, 5.5 Showed a little more pace today than I had seen from him in the past. That said, he doesn’t make quite the runs that Ryan Pore is known for, but his distribution on that wing is clearly a cut above right now. His effort on the free kick in the 70th minute was top notch, and was unlucky to not come away with the winner.
Jack Jewsbury, 7 Man of the match for the Timbers. Obviously was a solid strike on the goal, but was also commanding in the midfield, winning physical tackles and distributing well. The team seems to be taking on his confidence and attitude—exactly what you want from a captain.
James Marcelin, 5.5 This grade might even be a bit harsh. Paired very well with Jewsbury, repeatedly wining 50-50 balls in the midfield and looking better in distribution than we have seen him.
Jeremy Hall, 5 Seems to be getting more and more aggressive in going at goal by the game. Made a smart run to the middle of the field in the run up to the goal, and did well to just knock the ball to Jewsbury. That said, still seemed to disappear at times.
Jorge Perlaza, 4.5 Maybe this is a little generous, but on a second watch of the game, he was only a step off two goals—one on a Steve Purdy cross and another on a rebound of a Kenny Cooper shot. Isn’t creating much off of his own runs, but I think he is closer to being comfortable and productive than I initially thought.
Kenny Cooper, 6 Was again disruptive up front. Shares the credit for the goal, where he showed his versatility. Basically transformed himself into a winger, made the right pass into the box and set up the equalizer. Continues to earn fouls extremely well, setting up set pieces in dangerous areas, where Jack Jewsbury and company are getting more and more lethal.
Brian Umony, 5.5 Came on and created a few chances. Was more active up front than Perlaza, even if sometimes a bit too active. Could be an interesting player to watch throughout the season—again another young player that has shown some potential. The guess here is that we see him as a frequent substitute, especially as long as Perlaza is still getting comfortable in MLS.
Darlington Nagbe, 5 The realistic expectation for today’s appearance was simply for him to get some pitch time, get comfortable, and begin to reestablish some of that chemistry with his teammates. Looked a little bit tentative and lost at times in his short stint, but also showed some flashes of being adept on the ball and doing a good job tracking back.