The Portland Timbers are no longer on a losing streak. They snapped a 230-minute scoreless stretch with goals in consecutive ticks, and for a while there, a struggling expansion club had its big-city guests and one of MLS' top teams pressed firmly against the ropes.
So how were the boys feeling post-game?
"Guys are gutted right now," said Capt. Jack Jewsbury.
"Disappointed," said coach John Spencer. "The players are absolutely distraught."
Worst. Draw. ... EVAR? Portland let a storybook win get a crummy ending tied to the end of it Sunday as the Timbers surrendered a late-ish two-goal lead and (for the second straight match) gave up a score in the final seconds to let Eastern-Conference leading New York escape with a 3-3 draw.
It was the wildest match of Portland's MLS era (Back-to-back goals! Hit posts! Crazy bicycles! Thierry Henry sent packing!) and the Timbers showed their full range, flashing both their highest-octane and lowest-grade play of the season: Tepid in the first 45 minutes, the Timbers came out of the halftime locker room like whoa, answering the Red Bulls' game-opening fifth-minute goal with two scores within the first four minutes of the second half.
Suddenly, Timbers fans and Red Bull players were thinking the same thing: "Where the hell did these guys come from?"
More symptoms of Portland's multiple personalities after the jump, plus video of John Spencer's post-match presser, match highlights and EXTRA TIME links to help with that pesky case of exenteration.
Without their head coach (perched in the press box while serving a one-match suspension for chastising officials) on the sideline, the Timbers came out uninspired.
New York (which already boasted six goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches coming in) walked onto the pitch ready to play as it has all season, netting one in the fifth minute against a Timbers team that again stumbled out of the tunnel. The quickly conceded goal may have awoken the Timbers, but Portland remained groggy the rest of the first half, plodding along and timidly poking it around the backline while the Red Bulls were content to move in space.
"The tempo wasn't high enough," Spencer said. "We never moved the ball quick enough. We gave them a little too much respect."
Then, something switched at halftime. Maybe head-coach-for-the-night Trevor James gave a stirring halftime speech. Maybe they put John Spencer on speakerphone and huddled around (he probably could've pounded through drywall after watching his team absorb 11 fouls and counter with two). Or maybe someone grabbed a smoke bomb from Timbers Army and tossed it into the home locker room—because Portland emerged from it like a house on fire in the second 45.
The Timbers attacked. They played loose. At times, they were, as Spencer put it, "magnificent."
Two goals within the first four minutes of the half (a skidding laser from Jewsbury in the 48th off a throw-in and a nifty back-footed dink by Kevin Goldthwaite in the 49th off a free kick) brought roars from the sellout crowd and stunned its visitors. Multiple chances followed as New York pressed back, and Jorge Perlaza was sprung free in the 68th minute to set up an own-goal by former Timber Stephen Keel.
The Timbers were rolling, and even after Henry went into beast mode and scored in the 73rd to make it 3-2, Portland kept attacking and earned a penalty kick in the 76th when Perlaza again burst past the defense.
But the ensuing Jewsbury PK caught the post square, and the vibration felt throughout the stadium seemed to rattle Portland. They suddenly looked slightly out of sorts as Kenny Cooper was caught awkwardly offside in the 81st and the Red Bulls started picking up yellow cards as regulation time ran down and four minutes were added to the clock.
And then, amid groans from the crowd, the cut was swift.
After Henry's red-card (which I'd call ridiculous if I didn't fear being fined by MLS more than this guy) Portland dodged and ducked the Red Bulls' advances until the final seconds, when would-be-hero Goldthwaite mis-struck an attempted clearance that would've ended the match and Rodney Wallace let his arm get stuck where it shouldn't be.
The resulting handball-in-the-box PK led to a Dwayne De Rosario equalizer, and the ending pretty much ruined the movie.
"That’s two games in a row where we’ve given up some points late in games," Jewsbury said.
It sure is, but it's not the biggest reason for Portland to be disappointed, gutted or otherwise wrenched. I'd put the heart-stopping finish right up there, sure, but it's certainly below the lackadaisical start. Or the lack of energy/attack/fire in the first half. Or the fact that Goldthwaite—the last defender on the bench literally fighting for playing time ("I felt that they were a little bit scared of him because he was being brave and he was getting his head on things," Spencer said)—was the guy setting the tone when the chips were down.
Whatever the team did to snap to life between 7:55 and 8:10 on Sunday night—whatever was said, screamed, inferred or otherwise gestured—needs to be concentrated and distributed pre-game if Portland is to turn a tough-luck tie into a moral victory and keep things moving in a positive direction.
Call it a gut feeling.
EXTRA TIME! L-I-N-K-S spells "Relief"
• The Timbers "had to swallow a bitter" draw, according to The O's Geoffrey C. Arnold, whose notebook highlights former Timber Stephen Keel's night.
• The Timbers "once again fumbled the match away" says Chris Rifer of the Timbers Army, who can't help but use ALL CAPS when grading Wallace on his play.
• "Two more points were thrown away on Sunday night," says Mao of The Offside, who says a draw is a good result "when viewed without context."
• Here be match reports from Timbers Insider Kelly McLain and Portland MLS Press' Kevin Hudson.
• Portland "outplayed aguably the best team in the MLS in the second half," says Ryan Gates of Stumptown Footy.
• Thierry Henry shows some class after getting shown off and Darlington Nagbe has a new favorite jersey, says The Trib's Stephen Alexander.
• The Timbers' official site has a game recap by Dan Itel, along with quotes and notes from both sides.