Backs To The Wall

The Timbers go into the second leg of the Western Conference final knowing that they need a huge performance to turn around a two goal deficit to Real Salt Lake. That this is not the first time that Portland have faced adversity should give Timbers fans some hope, and Kevin Alexander goes over three previous occasions where the Timbers have had their backs to the wall, and come out fighting.


Welcome Home?

14th April 2011, Portland Timbers vs Chicago Fire

The difficulty here wasn’t so much in the strength of the opposition – the Fire picked up one point in six trips to the west coast in 2011 – but in the occasion. This was the home opener, the first MLS match in Soccer City, and the fans were beyond ready for it to get here.

This was despite an indifferent start that had seen the Timbers outscored 2-6 in the opening three road games. Coming into the home games, they were being forced to make changes at the back with key players still missing.

So, injury troubles, tough road trips and a keyed up home crowd. This should all sound pretty familiar.

Jake Gleeson was making his second start, and in front of him Futty Danso was making his MLS debut after a David Horst ankle knock. All these guys are still around the club, in some shape or form, but this curtain raising team is noticeable more the guys who’ve moved on:

    Eric Brunner, the one solid part of a shifting and unsettled defense;
    Steve Purdy, the dependable full back soon to be adjudged to be less good than Jeremy Hall;
    Jeremy Hall, the ineffective right winger adjudged to be of less harm in defence;
    James Marcelin, the non-soccer specialist and Keeper of Secrets;
    Jorge Perlaza, the striker who ran a lot and didn’t score;
    and Kenny Cooper, the striker who fell a lot and did, but not enough.

Troy Perkins, who would’ve started had he been fit, and whose trade is turning out to be the greatest trick Gavin ever pulled.

James Marcelin replaced Peter Lowry for the draw against New England, and he held onto his place alongside Jack Jewsbury in the heart of midfield for the visit of Chicago.

Now, I mean no disrespect to either guy (both of whom have a bunch of MLS appearances and goals under their belts), but read that sentence again:

James Marcelin replaced Peter Lowry for the draw against New England, and he held onto his place alongside Jack Jewsbury in the heart of midfield for the visit of Chicago.

How far we’ve come in terms of player quality and depth since 2011.

As for the game, well, the heavens opened and 29 minutes in Jorge Perlaza delivered the first MLS goal to Portland. Rodney Wallace doubled it eight minutes later. Perlaza added a third after the break before the Timbers were pushed back by two late Chicago goals. An own goal off a Jewbury corner restored a two goal cushion and sealed the win.

It was a win which kickstarted the season, and the terrific home form was almost entirely responsible for the close run at the making the playoffs.


Meet The Neighbors

24 June 2012, Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders

A little less than a month had passed since Cal FC had hammered what would later prove to be biggest and shiniest nail in John Spencer’s head coaching coffin. The visit of the Sounders was the Timbers’ first match at Jeld-Wen since that night, but having lost in LA the previous week Portland went into the derby match with more than just local pride at stake.

Spencer replaced Hanyer Mosquera, suspended, with Futty Danso, and Mike Chabala was replaced by Steven Smith, who had been spared playing in LA in mid-June. Ex-Sounder Mike Fucito made his first start for Portland, replacing Danny Mwanga alongside Kris Boyd.

Again, that last sentence should underline the difference in quality and depth from then to now. There are times we’ve been stretched by injuries or call-ups, but I’m happier knowing that there is an Alhassan or Valencia to step in and not, well, Fucito or Mwanga. That kind of depth is worth points here and there, and makes the difference over 34, or more, games.

Meanwhile, Franck Songo’o, Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan were the three attacking midfielders, with Diego Chara given the work of two men to do on his own, as usual. It was a formation that, in retrospect, seems designed to bring out the worst in his players: Chara has so much to do that at times there’s no option but to foul, even if it’s right on the edge of his own box; Songo’o, the mercurial winger and creative attacker, Barcelona and all that, was asked to defend; Nagbe, the young and inconsistent player was given a role where his tendency to drift out of games left a gaping hole right in front of the (patchwork) defence; Alhassan, who borrowed a bit from both Songo’o and Nagbe in his nature and aversion to the kind of kick-and-rush high intensity football Spencer wanted to play.

And yet, despite these glaring deficiencies, magic happened, as it does in Portland from time to time.

There was no getting away from the plain fact that Seattle were the better team, and looked set to finish the job that Cal FC had started in ending Spencer’s time in the top job. He must surely have known he was living on borrowed time, and aware that a bad result against Seattle could bring about the end.

Spencer put his trust in his striker, another man unaware his Timbers career was all but over. Kris Boyd delivered the opening goal after only a quarter of an hour, set up by Smith and Songo’o.

This would be John Spencer’s last hurrah in Portland. A couple of bad results on the road ended his stewardship, a 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake the last time we saw him prowling the touchline. He went out fighting though, and his team delivered a 2-1 win that was the foundation for a run towards the Cascadia Cup in 2012 – the green shoots at the end of two long, barren years.

From Boyd’s “I can’t hear a thing” celebration, to his confrontation with Fredy Montero, and the explosion of noise when Portland’s least favorite Colombian was shown red in injury time, this match provided many of the great MLS Timbers moments for fans,despite it coming during a time when Spencer’s coat was, to borrow a Scottish phrase, on a shoogly peg.

So, John Spencer won this battle, despite having already lost the war. If nothing else, he went down fighting, and took down the nouveau douche lot from up the road on the way.


This Was Not In The Script

30 March 2013, Colorado Rapids 2-0 Portland Timbers

Fifty minutes in, the Timbers were in a distressingly familiar position – they were losing.

That had been the case at this point in the previous three matches (1-3 vs New York, 0-1 vs Montreal, 0-1 vs Seattle) but they could take some heart from coming back late in two of those matches to grab a couple of points, losing only to Montreal having still mounted a fightback.

Caleb Porter’s arrival had certainly brought goals, but far too many of them were at the wrong end. With 50 minutes gone in Colorado, the Timbers had been outscored 5-8 in a little under 4 games, with the home doubleheader against New York and Montreal accounting for 5 out of the 8 goals against. The introduction of Jack Jewsbury as the deepest lying member of a three man central midfield in Seattle had seen the hosts held a 1-1 draw, with Jack sweeping up behind Diego Chara and Will Johnson. Those three remained in place for the trip to play the Rapids, with the defence patched up by replacing Mikael Silvestre with David Horst.

Fast forward to fifty minutes in and the Timbers were two goals down and had been outshot by 11-3.

The charge of the white brigade was led by The Captain who headed home Ryan Johnson’s cross, Johnson-to-Johnson resuscitation. Will’s header halved the deficit before the hour was out, then a corner in the Rapids box with 20 minutes to go earned Portland a handball call; there was never any doubt that The Captain would take care of the penalty himself.

Though Portland would have to content themselves with another hard-earned point on the road, unable to find the killer third goal, the way the team fought back in these two road games set the tone for the season to come: 2013, the year where the final whistle was merely a minor inconvenience that got in the way of a Timbers win now and then.

Jewsbury took up his place at right-back in the next match, and Wallace was restored to the starting line-up as the Timbers record their first win, and then the second, and the third…

Colorado has never been an easy place to go to, and the Timbers have had some real nightmares there, so 2-0 down with 40 minutes to play would have signalled game over in previous years, but they fought back and put another point on the board. Changed days.


France provided a great example of the value of a strong home second leg performance, overturning a two-goal lead to qualify for the World Cup. The Timbers won six of their regular season games by at least two goals, almost half, and would’ve added a couple more big wins against Seattle for late rallies and lapses. They’ve fought back time and time again in the past and there is no reason to think they won’t do so here.

Mirriam Webster defines belief as “a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone” and that pretty well sums up my feeling going in the game. I believe because I trust in every guy that takes the field on Sunday night to put in a performance that is worthy of the honor of playing for this club, in this town. My belief isn’t blind faith in happy endings; RSL are a really good team and they hold the upper hand going into the game, so I don’t expect a fairytale end as much as I hope for it. It may happen, there is certainly a chance of that because we have the ability on and off the pitch to make it happen, but if it doesn’t, my belief is unshakable that every single person in attendance will be in no doubt that there was no more that this team could do and they had already achieved more than most could’ve dared to dream for.

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2 thoughts on “Backs To The Wall

  1. “…they had already achieved more than most could’ve dared to dream for.”

    I think that’s the critical phrase. Win or lose tomorrow we’ve had a great season; who would have thought in September 2012 that we’d still be playing in November 2013, one of the last four teams still standing?

    If the Boys fight hard tomorrow I’ll be singing for them after the final whistle whether they go on to the cup final or not; this team has played their hearts out this season and have given us another reason for supporting the King of Clubs.

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