it was a long and inglorious streak. one i would like to forget but most assuredly will tell remember when stories in the years to come. and when i do tell those stories, knowing they were preceded by an unbearable winless streak as the one the timbers faithful have suffered through i will start them with yesterday’s game.
having suffered through failure after failure in the last 8 games, i had little hope the timbers would walk off the pitch at 2130 with anything more than the applause from the supporters. however, 3 minutes into the first half that familiar feeling of dread i have come to hold as closely as a security blanket began to wear off. aside from the notable exclusion of the naughty diego chara, what has now become the favored starting eleven pushed the play in the whitecaps half through the industry sal zizzo on the right wing. it was that industry and the respect the whitecaps had for zizzo that opened space up for nagbe and alexander to move the ball around in the middle of the pitch. in the 4 minute, nagbe took advantage of the extra attention zizzo received from alain rochat to drive into vancouver’s 18 yard box only to lift his shot too high in an attempt to curl around the caps’s keeper, joe cannon. while nagbe would have been better served side-footing low and inside to the near post, because he had cannon leaning to cover the far post, nagbe’s movement to goal was very promising.
11 minutes later, nagbe connected with franck songoo, who had a rip at goal from 18 yards out on the left side. the effort was saved, but looked dangerous from the northend—a powerful and low, arching shot that required a good save from joe cannon.
the momentum was building. the timbers retained possession, won the midfield duals, and forced the whitecaps on their back foot. the two teams may have traded a few kicks in the center of the pitch, but for the majority of the first half the timbers escaped with the ball at their feet. it is rare that i give him praise these days, but captain forever was instrumental in shepherding the side forward—he stabilized the backfour, playing a disciplined lateral game rather than succumbing to his typical desire to push forward which leaves the back four exposed. it may have been due to chara’s absence, but i will give him the benefit of the doubt.
the first missed chance came off a steven smith cross into the caps six yard box. smith laced the ball in from the left side the bright dike, who beat jay demerit to the ball. unfortunately his header hit the post and careened back into play. aside from holding up the ball, dike’s only other contribution to the match was being a passenger.
finally, in the 41 minute, nagbe scored. what a goal and what a testament to the possession play of this side. alexander received a long, cross field pass from dike. he quickly turns to his left to find captain forever running into space. jack took alexnader’s pass in stride, looked to his left to see nagbe on the far side of dane richards. with a quick touch, jack threads a needle with nagbe as nagbe splits richards, y.p. lee (yes, you will always be tottenham scum, scum), and the underwhelming andy o’brien. nagbe dribbled with his left foot, switched to his right and then fired to the lower right hand corner of goal. joe cannon, you got beat. and, to be quite honest, anyone who wears plum like you wore plum should be made to look a right plum. 1-0.
this would not be a timbers game without at the very least one complete cockup of a goal. that came in the 46 minute of the first half. as offside as kenny miller’s goal appeared—it was not. that goal was gifted to him by, yup, you guessed right: the timbers back four. specifically, david horst. it goes without saying that at least once a game horst forgets his positioning and goes walk-about. following a wrongly awarded corner, the ball was cleared to the edge of the 18 yard box and fell to the feet of jay demerit. both teams shifted forward and as they did kenny miller remained glued 6 yards off the right corner of the 6 yard box. horst lazily walks forward, behind kimura, and, for some unknown and inexplicable reason, he begins to dart to the left side of the box and played miller on side. after having missed one shot, demerit found miller unmarked with yards of daylight. he crossed the ball and miller had little else to do but bury it for 1-1. absolutely shocking defense and not unexpected from horst.
all season the timbers have begun the second half sluggishly, detached from the game, and have quite often been punished for their inattentive play. the same response was expected last night, following the late goal. whether a sign of maturity or desperation, the timbers came out and played a second half worthy of the first 45 minutes of the first half. they came out and quickly put the caps on their heels. dike and zizzo connected for a couple shots, one forced a good save from cannon. but for all the offensive pressure the caps were placed under, it would be a set piece that made the difference.
in the 55 minute, dike was 10 yards outside of the whitecaps box and a free kick was awarded. one of the benefits of the recent emergence of franck songoo as an offensive option is the fact captain forever has been taken off the free kick duties. rather than the predictable and often ineffective, toe-poke, franck has injected a directness to the free-kick duties. needless to say, it was a welcomed appearance last night when he stepped to the ball and curled it around a leaping kenny miller to place it in the lower right corner. while joe cannon could have done better in his limited attempt to save franck’s effort,iI surely did not complain and i think 20000 others in the jw did not either. 2-1.
after that, the timbers did their best impersonation of a side attempting to lock down a much needed win. there were further attempts on goal, but for the better part of the second half the timbers played pure possession tactics. and it worked. of course, there were moments when the caps threatened. scary moments, indeed. but the lads stood up to them.
much has been written and argued about the ricketts/perkins trade. some of which has maligned donovan before he was ever able to stand before the northend. last night he did more than stand, he made several blinding saves to keep the timbers within hope’s reach of a win. though it was not his save that salvaged the win, it was the save made by another overly maligned player.
in the 74 minute the caps had a decent amount of possession and they used it well. they put pressure on the timbers right side. dane richards again worked the ball past captain forever and then again past kimura. ricketts rather aggressively closes down the distance between richards and goal. he makes a fine save, but unfortunately the ball rebounds to camillo sanvezzo. at that point, ricketts was well of his line and well committed to the play. again, he charged after the ball. camillo smartly roles past the big man and looked to have curled home the ball that would add another game to the winless streak. however, steven smith played his position superbly. he pulled back and sat on the goal line, awaiting the oncoming shot. the forethought to get back there saved the timbers faithful further heartbreak. as camillo’s shot curled in, the ginger defender leapt about as high as a ginger defender can leap to reach the ball and clear it from the box. only an errant and ill-advised shot from jun davidson would allow the side to breath. excellent. absolutely excellent defending. while it does not make up for some of the gaffs we have seen this season, it sure helped us forget a few.
the last 15 minutes were nail-bitingly miserable, especially when darren mattocks came on for john thorrington. however, mattocks assuaged any fear of another late minute equalizer by putting the reducer on david horst. whether the mls has now become overly cautious or the ref actually wanted to get the call right, we had to wait a few seconds as the replay was there for everyone to see. red card and the walk of shame. down a man and with little offensive creativity to be found in the right foot of barry robson, the timbers hope of survival was improved.
there were many moments within the match that can be touched upon–the political movements, the protests, the two-sticks of despair–but the most important thing to discuss and remember about last night was the resolve of the side to break a very painful and ugly streak. well done, lads. well done.
enjoy this one.