Mike Donovan

Timbers season draws to a close

The 2012 campaign featured plenty of drama and a Cascadia Cup
Oct. 27, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

Portland didn’t get a penalty kick, the Timbers Army screamed their lungs off, rain fell at Jeld-Wen Field and the Timbers gave up the first goal.

So Saturday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes played out like a mini version of their entire 2012 season. And for the third time this season, the San Jose Earthquakes were unable to knock the Timbers, as the teams fought to a 1-1 draw.

Bright Dike’s fifth goal of the season negated Chris Wondolowki’s 27th and Portland was able to end the season on a 6-game home unbeaten streak.

And while the Timbers season was certainly a disappointment, here are five positives Timbers fans can take from the 2012 season.

1. Jeld-Wen Field still has some magic

The Portland Timbers finished the season with just four home losses in their 17 matches at Jeld-Wen. Portland also went undefeated against the two MLS Conference champions at home this season (2-0-1).

2. The Timbers are young

The average age of field players in the Timbers 18 for Saturday’s game was 23.6. Numerous key players for the Timbers future are 25 and under including Franck Songo’o (25), Darlington Nagbe (22), Danny Mwanga (21) and Andrew Jean-Baptiste (20). Bright Dike, who lead the team in goals scored since John Spencer was fired, is also only 25.

3. The play of Steven Smith, Hanyer Mosquera and Songo’o

While Kris Boyd was not the player the Timbers FO had hoped, three new acquisitions had decent years for the club. Mosquera was the team’s best player for the first half of the season, while Smith and Songo’o improved immensely by the end of the season. There is no reason to believe the trio will not be improved in their 2nd MLS season.

4. Ownership that cares

Meritt Paulson cares about in-game officiating, fans and his community, while other MLS owners care about their other pro sports franchises. Timbers fans should be happy to not be owned by the Stan Kroenkes of the world.

5. Cascadia Cup

Trophies not friendlies.

 

NO PITY CITY 17 Timbers and their young

Portland's young players make cases for being in the teams' long-term plans
Sept. 15, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

The next time the Timbers take on a Cascadia Cup rival in Portland, they will have a new coach and likely some new players on the pitch. Saturday’s 1-1 draw might have given the Timbers a glimpse of what their future looks like in 2013 and beyond.

In the future envisioned by Timbers management, and fans alike, the Timbers will constantly play big games for trophies in front of national TV audiences. While the 2012 season has been a disappointment in many ways, the chance to win the Cascadia Cup in front of a home crowd made it the biggest and most important game of the season.  

And, in the face of all that pressure, certain Timber players seemed to rise to the occasion. With no spots on the team guaranteed for next season, players played like their jobs were on the line, in addition to the Cup.

In his last two seasons with the Portland Timbers, Rodney Wallace has been criticized so much by Timbers fans that he might as well changed his name to “Much-Maligned Rodney Wallace.” Despite showing flashes going forward, Wallace has often been the scapegoat for his penchant for playing blind long balls out of the back.

But with Steven Smith suspended, Wallace was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in five matches. But that was in the midfield. Wallace hadn’t started at left back since the fifth game of the MLS season. Despite this, Wallace delivered his finest match of his Timbers career, turning the match into a video resume for incoming head coach Caleb Porter.

While his goal will get the headlines, it was his all-around play that will keep Wallace on the field for the Timbers. When coming forward, Wallace earned numerous corner kicks for Portland and completed 58 successful passes (to just 16 unsuccessful). On defense, he locked down his side of the pitch and had a key block of a Brad Evans cross in the 31st minute. Eddie Johnson had been left unmarked and would have had an open goal if not for Wallace’s key defensive stop.

It wasn’t just Wallace who played well on Saturday. Captain Jack Jewsbury played a nice game at holding midfield and his corner kicks completely turned the match around for Portland.

Jewsbury, who is two full years older than any other Timbers field player, is playing at a level that would certainly merit his inclusion on the team next season. If nothing else, he provides leadership and durability on the field.

Despite playing different positions, Jewsbury and Wallace provide more versatility than the majority of Portland’s current squad. Wallace is a self-described two-way player who has no problem playing close to either goal. Jewsbury on the other hand can play anywhere from right back to attacking midfield.

The match was also a key one for players like Bright Dike, Sal Zizzo, and Hanyer Mosquera to gain experience playing in such a large rivalry game. None of the three players had started against the Sounders in the MLS. While they might not have played their best games Saturday, the big game experience might come in handy, the next time they are faced with an important match.


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Goal-less streak falls, but winless lives

Portland's season is down to celebrating just scoring to forge a draw
Aug. 5, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

The Timbers finally were able to put a ball in the back of the net, but Jack Jewsbury’s left-footed rocket was not enough to prevent Portland from failing to win in its sixth straight game.

Playing in the hottest home game this season, the Timbers came out in the same lineup that produced many chances against Chivas USA, but no goals. While Franck Songo’o had a second straight good match, Brent Richards wasn’t a presence like in last Saturday’s match.

Songo’o has been a consistent attacking threat in the last few games for the Timbers. His seven shots were the most by a Timber since they became a MLS franchise. However, none of his shots challenged Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and Songo’o’s streak of not scoring in a league match is now 1,268 days old.

Songo’o’s offensive presence was a much-needed spark for the Timbers, who had some players struggle in the 90-degree heat.

Kris Boyd was nowhere to be found during his 61 minutes on the pitch. Boyd had just four touches during his hour-long stint. And, while his free kick did force a diving save by Hartman, the Timbers will need to see more production to justify his contract, which is five times more than any other Timber.

General Manager/interim coach Gavin Wilkinson blamed the heat for Boyd’s performance.

“Kris played the game in conditions that maybe unsuitable to him,” Wilkinson said. “Maybe we got to do a better job of getting him on the ball and he’s got to do a little better job to find the ball.

“I don’t think the conditions were ideal for Kris today.”

Despite their striker’s poor performance, Portland was still able to get 21 shots off, which is the most this season for the club and second most as an MLS club. Ten of those shots came after Dallas’s Zach Loyd was sent off for a second yellow card.

Loyd was beat on multiple occasions by Songo’o. Loyd’s struggles came hours after his former college teammate Kirk Urso passed away.

Urso, who was in his rookie season with the Columbus Crew, was former college teammates with both Loyd and Dallas starting defender Matt Herges. Urso was honored with a moment of silence before the match.

Jewsbury’s goal was the first for the Timbers in 370 minutes, which is the longest in the MLS this season. Portland now has the first and second longest goal-less streaks in the league this season.

In addition, the 79th-minute goal was the first home game-winning or game-tying goal in the final 15 minutes for Portland as a MLS club. Portland now looks to end its MLS-record 697-minute goal-less streak in away games, as it travels to Toronto on August 15.

The matchup will feature the bottom clubs in each of the MLS’s respective conferences.

 

Timbers back on track as a team

Five cards should get the attention of opponents when attacking Portland
June 24, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

When Fredy Montero shoved David Horst near the end of the Timbers 2-1 victory over Cascadia Cup rival Seattle, there was little doubt that the game had reached its boiling point. But, it was the reaction of Horst’s teammates that said more about the Timbers current attitude than any goal could.

Within seconds, Horst’s teammates surrounded Montero and Eddie Johnson. By the time Kris Boyd stuck his finger in Montero’s face it was clear. The players on the 2012 Portland Timbers have each other’s backs.

Sunday’s victory might be the defining moment of the season, but it was certainly the game where Portland showed its determination, camaraderie and character. Captain Jack Jewsbury summed up how the team feels about one another after the match.

“(In) this locker room, everyone’s got each other’s back,” said Jewsbury post-match.

The Timbers came out firing out of the chute with two goals in the first 25 minutes of play. Boyd coolly finished a Steven Smith pass in the 16th minute, while Horst scored his first MLS goal off a header nine minutes later.

A superb Eddie Johnson goal gave the Sounders life, but the Timbers were able to hold on and provide a much needed win for the club. Spencer was impressed with his team’s desire to perform against Seattle.

“Everybody was fully committed to the uniform,” said Spencer, who is now 3-1-2 in Cascadia Cup matches.

For the Timber player who has been with the club the longest, it was a win four years in the making. At the end of the match, Futty Danso collapsed to the ground in celebration of his first victory against Seattle.

“This game means a lot to the city, a lot to the fans,” said Futty Danso, who signed with the club in April 2009.

Danso also talked specifically how much this game means to the Timbers Army.

“If they could pick one game to win, they’d pick this one,” Danso said.

While Spencer, Boyd and Smith have all played in the famous Old Firm rivalry in Scotland, there is still something special in playing in the United States longest running soccer rivalry.

“These are the games you want to play in as a player,” said Smith, who had first MLS assist on Boyd’s goal.

In the weeks following the Timbers 1-0 loss to amateur side Cal FC, a lot has been made of both the Timbers effort and quality. The Timbers displayed both Sunday.

Kalif Alhassan and Franck Songo’o both displayed incredible footwork, whether along the sidelines or 18 yards from goal. Diego Chara was his usual self, making long runs forward on counter attacks and patrolling the middle whenever Osvaldo Alonso was on the ball. Chara finished the game with 36 successful passes to just three unsuccessful.

It had been a long time since the Timbers had last defeated their rivals to the North - 1,520 days to be exact. However, sometimes the waiting makes the winning that much more satisfying.

For Horst, the satisfaction might come with splinters because Horst said he will be sleeping with his log slice tonight. For the rest of the Timbers players, organization and fans, the dreams will be of how much satisfaction comes in beating your rival.

 

 

Follow Mike Donovan on Twitter @themikedonovan and Tuesdays on No Pity City on oregonsports.com.

Timbers have plenty to focus on during rest

Portland has another week off before playing at Houston
May 8, 2012

There's some relaxation afoot for the Portland Timbers this week as they have an extra three days off before playing at Houston, May 15, but that's an extra three days to delve into the importance of their next game.

Portland needs a gool old fashioned win however it happens and a win at Houston would be something close to monumetal, a topic that will be key to Tuesday night's webcast of No Pity City on oregonsports.com.

The show begins at 8:30 p.m. and can be viewed on this page.

Portland's season is awash in drama after only nine games. Not only are the Timbers at the bottom of the Western Conference at 2-5-2, 8 points, but they haven't scored a goal in three games, 3.5 halves to be exact.

The team has scored twice in a game only twice and has yet to score in both halves of a game.

And, the Timbers are winless on the road, earning only a 1-all tie at Dallas in their first road game.

The biggest reason for drama at Houston, is the home club playing its first MLS night game in its new stadium after starting the season with seven straight road games.

Portland's continually changing line-up is likely to see another change, although one that's likely to be determined shortly before game time.


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Trouble at fullback dooms Timbers again

COLUMN: Unorganized play leads to 2-1 loss at home to Chivas USA
April 7, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

For the second straight Saturday, the Portland Timbers gave up a second-half home lead, and lost, this time to Chivas USA, 2-1.

The loss shined a light on a pressing problem for the Timbers.

Five games might be too small a sample size to evaluate a team’s value and likely finishing position, but five games is enough time to analyze a team for any telling strengths and weaknesses. And the weakness that has reared its ugly head the most is continued struggles of the Timbers outside defenders at man-on-man marking.

The Timbers had no answer for Chivas after speedy winger Ryan Smith joined the action to start the second half. Smith joins a long line of players who have thrived attacking straight at Timbers fullbacks. In fact if players like Smith and Dane Richards played all of their matches against the Timbers they would be perennial MLS All-Stars.

Smith’s play against Portland right back Lovel Palmer was a one-sided affair for the entire second half. From fans to coaches, the mismatch was extremely noticeable.

“They put in Ryan Smith, who has tremendous ability and great speed, he goes past Lovel Palmer and puts a great ball into the box and they score,” head coach John Spencer said after the match.

Portland seems to struggle most when defending the same style of offense they play. The Timbers seem to try to pester teams with outside runs and crosses into the box. It is surprising that a team cannot defend the same type of offense it seems to run for the majority of matches.

Struggling at the back is not new for the Timbers. In 2011, losses to New York (away), Houston (away), DC United and Kansas City were all marred by shoddy play from the outside backs.

This offseason, the only pickup the Timbers made at fullback was selecting RB Ryan Kawulok in the MLS Supplemental draft. Kawulok is currently the third-string right back and unlikely to see much time with the team this season.

While Rodney Wallace and Mike Chabala were not responsible for the goals in Saturday’s match, they have not escaped the wrath of opposing wingers either in their time in Portland.

The fault for Saturday’s defeat doesn’t lie at Lovel Palmer’s feet alone. The Timbers had zero shots on goal after Kris Boyd’s 16th-minute goal. Spencer was clearly disappointed in his team’s effort.

“As poor as we’ve played in Jeld-Wen since I got here,” said a controlled Spencer postmatch.

It is unfair to blame one player for any loss, especially when hardly any Timbers players seemed to show up and play the game they wanted to play. But the Timbers loss to Chivas seems to have a similar weak spot as many previous matches.

The short-term solution might be to insert Steve Purdy at RB and give him a chance to earn his keep as a Timber. However, the long-term solution might be both the simplest and most harsh.

The Portland Timbers might simply need to find better players. And that is certainly not what any member of the Timbers organization wants to hear after just five matches.


Timbers fans have questions aplenty after RSL loss

COLUMN: Portland fans have to deal with a gut punch after Saturday's loss
March 31, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

What just happened?

That was the question on the minds of the Timbers players, fans, and anyone else who watched the Timbers give up two goals in the final five minutes in a 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.  What just happened?

After the final whistle, almost everyone associated with Timbers had the same glazed over, look of shock on their face. Whether it was Merritt Paulson with head-in-hand in front of his office computer or Kris Boyd slumped over with both hands on his chin in the locker room, no member of the Timbers organization could seem to make sense of what had just happened.

Just 30 minutes before the final whistle, the only question running through the minds of the Timbers Army was, “did that just happen?” As Darlington Nagbe blasted a volley over Nick Rimando giving his 2011 MLS Goal of the Year a fitting sequel and the Timbers a 2-1 lead 65 minutes into the match.

But, Nagbe’s golazzo was not the question on everyone’s mind after the match. John Spencer faced the media with the same look of confusion that was being worn by most at Jeld-Wen. What just happened?

“I don’t think at any one time Real Salt Lake stopped fighting,” Spencer said. “We knew we had to match them for 90 minutes, and we matched them for 84 minutes.”

As to what actually happened on the two goals that were scored late by RSL, the replays tell some of the story. On the tying goal by Jonny Steele, the usually reliable James Marcelin gave the ball away softly to Javier Morales. Then Steele easily sidestepped Eric Brunner, who looked to be running on fumes.

The game winner by Kyle Beckerman is even easier to diagnose after multiple viewings. At least seven Timbers defenders were ball-watching and none of the players on the pitch saw Beckerman waving both his arms in the air to notify Fabian Espindola that no one was marking him.

And if Beckerman’s face looked familiar during his post-goal celebration, it was because it was the same one that Troy Perkins had as he sat down on the field staring at his defense. What just happened?

The Timbers aren’t the first MLS team to lose a game they were winning after 85 minutes. And they won’t be the last. It is how they come back this April Fool’s Day-like stomach punch that will define the early part of their 2012 season.

Will the memories of Saturday lead to sluggish performances in upcoming games vs Chivas USA, LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City? Or will the disappointment provide motivation going forward?

While those questions will be answered in the coming weeks, one direct question remains as Jeld-Wen Field employees cleaned up a deserted, dimly-lit stadium.

What just happened?

 

For Timbers, the time is now for Nagbe

Portland's offense gets a lift when Darlington's on the field
March 17, 2012 / By Mike Donovan, oregonsports.com

Going into halftime Saturday in Frisco, Texas, the Portland Timbers were behind 1-0 on the scoreboard and Darlington Nagbe was not on the pitch for the second consecutive first half.

Five minutes into the second half, Nagbe was in and the Timbers were no longer losing.

A Nagbe goal four minutes into the second half earned the Timbers a 1-1 draw in their first away match of the season.  Unlike the Timbers home opener on Monday at Jeld-Wen, Nagbe entered the game as a striker and not a midfielder.

While his goal was only set up after a disastrous screw-up by FC Dallas midfielder Daniel Hernandez, his finishing ability and presence of mind to turn and fire on net had zero to do with an opponent’s mistakes.

According to head coach John Spencer last season following the New England home game, Nagbe prefers to play up top paired with another striker. With newly acquired striker Kris Boyd a ready-and-willing presence in the box, Nagbe might have found his perfect match.

It was not just the goal that earned Nagbe the right to start at striker for the Timbers in upcoming matches. It was his touch and passing ability. His first touch is clearly far above any other potential starting forward on the club, while his ability to pass in tight spaces is a notch above Jorge Perlaza.

Nagbe’s ascent to striker would also clear up Perlaza to be used as a speedy, change-of-pace forward in the final 20 or so minutes of a match. Perlaza would have a game changing ability going against defenders that had been on the pitch for the entire game.

Another plus of Nagbe starting as a striker is how it clears up the jumbled outside midfielder position. Assuming Franck Songo’o eventually starts, the Timbers will have two defined starters (Kalif Alhassan and Songo’o) and two defined backups (Sal Zizzo and Eric Alexander) on the wings.  

While Nagbe does not have the height of most starting MLS forwards, his excellent jumping ability and sheer soccer IQ make up for his lack of inches. Nagbe displayed his ability to beat much taller defenders in last year’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthwaukes at Jeld-Wen.

Using his brain and leverage, the 21-year-old beat 6-foot-5 defender Bobby Burling to a ball and then slotted in a cross to Cooper, who found the back of the net. Plays like that demonstrate Nagbe’s ability to play against much taller central defenders.  

Sometimes in sports, players lose their spot not due to their inability, but simply because another player gives his team a better chance to win. And that is exactly what is happening to Jorge Perlaza. His demotion paired with Nagbe’s promotion would simply make the Timbers better.

Mike Donovan is the Portland Timbers beat reporter for OregonSports.com and he tweets at twitter.com/TheMikeDonovan. Donovan, along with OregonSports.com published Cliff Pfenning, host the weekly web series, No Pity City, every Tuesday night at 8: 30 Pacific time.

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