so it has happened–the 2012 mls season has ended and now the timbers are left to gather the pieces. usually when the season ends the depression grabs me, but not today. today i am relieved. today i can relax. the anxiety felt before each game can now be shuttered into a small recess of my brain, while the antipathy felt towards the owner and his sidekick can now subside to disbelief. sure, it may require a few weeks to get over some of the decisions the ginger interim and the fanboy made, but eventually i will be able to look back at this season with a reasonable and objective view to understanding how it all went wrong. fortunately, that is not the objective of today’s post. today, i discuss the final game played against san jose.
just as the season began, rain pelted the timbers and the timbers faithful in the finale to an otherwise arid eight months of football, washing away the hurt many of those in attendance have carried for the majority of this season. as the players walked to the middle of the pitch for opening ceremonies, the angry displays directed towards the interim manager, reflecting the northend’s assessment of his abilities, were replaced with a display of gratitude. 25 two-sticks with a number for each player embossed upon a portland flag were raised, suggesting that each of them had been adopted into the mythology and lore of the timbers. it was an acknowledgment that regardless of the acrimonious relationship between the northend and the general manager the players will always have the support of the fans.
as two sentiments were prevalent in the stands, two desires dominated the match: getting the ball to chris wondolowski and preventing chris wondolowski from breaking roy lassiter’s mls single season scoring record at the jw. during my pre-match review of the news rags earlier yesterday, it was clear the mls was not selling the match as an end to dreadful year. how could they? no, the mls whored wondolowski’s bid to become the single season scoring leader. thankfully the timbers were not willing to rollover for television ratings.
as frustrating as their play can be and was, the timbers controlled much of the match. they retained 56 percent of the possession. they won 54 percent of the key battles in midfield, and completed 78 percent of their passes. the timbers still failed to create the necessary opportunities to translate those possession statistics into tangible results. in 90+ minutes of play, the timbers had two shots on goal–dike’s blocked shot and then his rebounded goal. san jose were not as profligate in attack as the timbers, but they were not much better. they had a total of 4 shots on goal and forced ricketts to make a couple fine saves.
as anticipated, the interim manager gave a start to andrew jean-baptiste. hanyer mosquera was hobbled by a ligament issue, while futty danso and eric brunner had been shelved by season ending surgeries. as they say, fortune knocks but once. had i not known otherwise, his assured and confident play suggested he had been the heart of the timbers defense all season. playing against the league’s best attacking player, baptiste did not suffer the lapses of concentration that saw him removed from first team play in april. indeed, his composure belied his young age. needless to say i was impressed.
similarly, i was impressed with the decision to pull captain jack and to hand the honor to david horst. positional issues aside, horst is the type of captain this side needs–he is passionate, he gets what it means to be a timber, and he fights for his side. i may be biased in my assessment of the essential qualities, but a heart-on-sleeve approach has always been my prefered style–you know, someone who yells.
moving past my biases, the way horst and baptiste played together was flawless. the two communicated as if the partnership had been employed all season. they halted much of the forward progress made by san jose, eventually forcing the quakes to resort to lofty crosses reminiscent of doug flutie’s hail mary passes, hoping wondo could cheat his way to scoring his second of the night. thankfully the two big backs cleared most every opportunity made for wondo. now, i would hate to inflate the possibilities any more than they are due, but if horst and ajb see consistent minutes together we might see a formidable pairing develop in the coming years.
the intensity of their play limited san jose to no chances on goal in the first 20 minutes of the match despite the intelligent runs made by steven lenhart. but that was only going to last so long, right? as fate has often treated the timbers this season a goal scoring opportunity was awarded on controversy. donovan ricketts came off his line to attack a long ball to steven lenhart, who had found his way behind the timbers back four. unfortunately for the timbers, ricketts did not attack the ball with anything resembling conviction or confidence. lenhart won the initial challenge and followed the ball into the timbers 18 yard box. ricketts challenged lenhart again. it was a bold and masculine challenge, but it was also from behind. often when challenges are made late and from behind they result in cards–that is the way of the world and the way of officiating football. but often in those instances the ball was not won. replays of ricketts challenge on lenhart suggest donovan touched the ball, making the challenge a good challenge. but this is the mls and these are mls officials who know more about window licking than they do about tying their shoes. the penalty was given and so was the joint position in the record books. i will put an asterisk on that record.
20 minutes later, another san jose long ball found its way into the timbers 18 yard box and nearly connected wondolowski with undeserved glory. thankfully, david horst stopped the progression of the ball when he tackled wondo. had he not done so wondo could have been assured sole position in the record books.
the second half saw an increase in the action as san jose and wondolowski attempted to create a record. that would not happen thanks to the resolve of the back four and donovan ricketts, who had two excellent saves to ensure wondo did little else but smile at his failed efforts. the first save was at the 65 minute. wondolowski took a shot from the left side of the 6 yard box that looked to be heading to the far post. ricketts stretched out to parry the ball away from goal and to ajb who cleared out of danger. the next was in the waning minutes of the match when rafael baca put in a lofted ball to goal. whether intended for wondolowski or an actual shot, the ball was on frame and had ricketts not put it over the bar it was a certain goal.
the timbers drew even within seconds of ricketts first crucial save. eric alexander, the timbers assists leader, challenged bernardez and hernandez, neither of whom could determine what to do with the ball at the edge of their 18 yard box. instinctively, he dinked the ball to dike who had followed ea’s progress. dike drove the ball hard and low into busch, who deflected the shot into dike’s path who made certain the second shot found the back of the net. the match would end even at 1 all.
in the end, san jose still has not beaten the timbers and the timbers picked themselves up in preparation for next season. which is where this side looks to now. long out of contention for the playoffs the final months of the season were used to determine who be in portland come february 2013. last night showed several in that starting eleven deserve a return. so, now the timbers dust off their pants and get to work preventing a repeat of this season.
i think i can speak for mags when i say it has been an honor writing about these fellas for all of you. and we look forward to engineering interesting daily posts for the off-season.