As you’ve probably already heard (if you were anywhere within ten blocks of SW 20th and Morrison) or seen (if you were just southeast of there, or watching on ESPN2), the Timbers drew the visiting New York Energy Drinks 3-3 tonight.
“Exciting” might not be quite the word I’m looking for. “Frightening” might have been the word I’d have chosen at the half, with Portland down 3-1. “Incredible” might have described the second half, where the Boys in Green pulled back two and came within a ball-width of a late winner on an improbably bicycle kick effort from Ryan Johnson.
Despite a tifo bursting with umbrellas and a big-little Morton Salt rain-or-shine-supporter we didn’t get our signature rain…but we got damn near everything else.
The Good: Some lovely buildup, composed attack, and three well-taken goals. Perhaps the best of the three came first, one of the most composedly delightful goals I have ever seen a Timber score, as early in the first period Diego Valeri ran onto a rough looping pass from Kalif Alhassan and, with Jámison Olave practically tickling his ribs coolly flicked it up to his chest and then chested it right down before him as Olave stood there giving him that look that you give the guy who cuts you off at the Vista off-ramp to the I-405. The finish was almost a gimme, a simple poke past a charging Robles to level the match at 1-1. Valeri also hit the second-half hammer that Robles could only push wide, and this time Darlington Nagbe was there to slot it away to pull the match back to 2-3.
And tonight the Timbers went down two goals, at home, and refused to lie down and die. The team I watched tonight showed a fight and a toughness that I haven’t seen at this level of soccer. Whatever else has happened between 2012 and tonight, the Timbers fought back for a point they had done their best to throw away, and that is a very good thing.
And for the first time in a long time, a Timbers coach made substitutions that affected the match, and in a good way. Okay, I’ll admit that the whole Rodney Wallace thing had me a little worried. But the RodWall was solid, and as he had in the Rectangular (or whatever the hell we should be calling the four-team “preseason tournament” other than the lame “Portland preseason tournament” thing we call it now…) Jose Valencia shook things up from the moment he took the pitch. His ultimate moment came in the 83rd minute, when he controlled a rebound to the left of the six, looked at the Drinks’ defenders swarming around the near post, and calmly teed it up and off Olave for the equalizer. A Timber scoring a come-back equalizer in the waning minutes? Whoodathunkit?
The Bad and the Ugly: Pretty much the entire first half that took place in back of midfield. Mikael Silvestre will come in for some serious stick in the press tomorrow for his play, and well he should; he looked jet-lagged for 45 minutes and it was his errors (hard to say which one was the worst – was it the initial bounding back-pass to Ricketts that the big guy biffed for an easy tap-in, or was it the second, a ridiculous raised-leg poke at a bouncing ball that would have drawn hoots and whistles at the Bolshoi?) that led to the first two goals.
Ricketts looked…well, ricketty. I keep waiting for the Ricketts who played against Mexico at the Azteca to show up wearing powder blue, but, again, his first half tonight showcased everything about him that shouts “dodgy keeper”; his fatal hesitation, his inability to field cleanly, and his poor communication with his defenders. His sprawling and inadequate flop that fell somewhere short of Pearce’s cross (admittedly, Silvestre and Jean-Baptiste were loafing somewhere nearby) that let Olave put the Drinks 3-1 up less than half an hour into the match didn’t have anyone up in Section 109 making admiring comparisons between our keeper and Lev Yashin or Gordon Banks.
In the end, I can’t say I came away crushed. Yes, we gave away two points at home. Yes, we continued last season’s awful tradition of shipping soft goals. Clearly we need to keep working on things at the back. And I can’t say I’m sold on the man we’ve put between the sticks.
But the Boys never gave up. They didn’t give in. Their coach kept his head and used his substitutes well. We weren’t gassed at 80 minutes and give up a late-match goal for the loss. We didn’t win, no. But, damn it, we refused to lose.
And as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh might say, sometimes, it doesn’t rain.