March 26. Canada. Toronto 2, Portland 0. Feels like forever ago, eh?
Much has changed in Timberland: Just two of Portland's starters from that match (Jack Jewsbury and Eric Brunner) are in the Starting XI tonight, but if you think that's a lot of change, you should take off, hoser: Of the 14 players who saw the pitch for Toronto that chilly afternoon, only eight remain with the team.
To say TFC's seen some roster upheaval is like saying John Spencer gets excited at times: The Reds have traded within MLS for starters Andy Iro and Ryan Johnson and added designated players Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans.
All four will start in tonight's 8 p.m. match, (ROOT Sports, 750 AM, 101.1 FM) which is crucial if Portland hopes to jump into a busy August with some momentum and keep their playoff hopes alive and well.
This one's being described as a match-up between "two of the league's worst teams ... at one of the league's best venues." Intrigued? Of course you are. So click past the jump as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the pitch.
Toronto—Stefan Frei in goal. Joao Plate, Danny Koevermans and Nick Soolsma up front. Ryan Johnson, Torsten Frings, Julian de Guzman at midfield. Andy Iro, Richard Eckersley, Ashtone Morgan and Ty Harden on defense. Frings is the captain and TFC is wearing their red shorts and jerseys.
Portland—Troy Perkins in goal. Eddie Johnson and Darlington Nagbe up front. Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chará, Jack Jewsbury and Sal Zizzo at midfield. Mike Chalaba, David Horst, Eric Brunner and Lovel Palmer on defense. Jewsbury is the captain and Portland is sporting its first-choice green jersey and white shorts. Perkins has a fresh buzz cut and is wearing his white jersey and black shorts.
Well, that's certainly a different starting lineup than we've seen from Portland this season. I like the fact that Zizzo and Nagbe are both on the field at the same time. Lots of speed, which more than makes up any lack of defensive prowess. Also, Chabala and Palmer both get the starting nod and Johnson—who must've impressed this week in training to beat out Perlaza—will be up front.
Zizzo gets a big applause, second only to Jewsbury's. Operation Enduing Streamers seemed to go off without a hitch after the national anthem was finished.
And away we go ...
1st minute—Zizzo and Palmer are on the right as Timbers hold possession for first minute. Taking their time and showing some patience, though not exactly pressing the Toronto D. With a re-vamped lineup, Portland looks to be getting used to each other out there.
3rd—Toronto not exactly pressing. They're letting Portland move the ball at will on their back line.
4th—Chabala knocks one forward to Johnson, but a Toronto defender steps in front. Toronto possessing a bit more now.
5th—Chará picks Frings' pocket, but is called for the match's first foul. That'll be a match-up to watch tonight. Diego's comfort has been growing steadily since he was picked up, and he's due for a big one. With so much speed around him, look for him to set the table at some point for PTFC.
7th—Zizzo goes straight up the middle and sidesteps three defenders but is clotheslined. Free kick coming from 35 yards straight on after a smart foul by Toronto. Zizzo was rolling.
8th—Jewsbury chips the free kick in and Horst heads it on-goal with his back to the net. Nifty, but Frei is all over it. Horst was offside anyway.
9th—Nagbe gets tangled up with Eckersley and is knocked to the pitch. Crowd hates seeing that and lets their feelings be known.
10th—Palmer with a nice run and a nifty pass to a wide-open Johnson in the box. He fires and Frei gets a fingertip on it as the ball hammers the cross-bar. Rebound goes to Alhassan, but he can't get a shot off. Neither can Zizzo, and Toronto dodges a bullet.
11th—Another through-ball to Johnson leads to an Alhassan shot, but it's wide right. Timbers are the definite aggressor here early, but they can't finish just yet.
13th—Chará tries to spring Palmer, who runs down the west sideline. But his pass is a bit too strong and it's a goal kick for TFC.
14th—Chará is the most active I've seen him in the early going of any game so far. Palmer and Chabala look comfortable beyond their tenure with Portland. Timbers look very comfortable over the ball. They're the better team at this point, for sure.
15th—Nagbe with a nice pass to Johnson, who makes another nice run. Ensuing throw-in (taken by Chabala since Jeremy Hall is mysteriously not on the roster tonight—trade bait?) and turned over.
17th—Some super-nifty headers between Alhassan and Chará right up front leads to a Kalif shot as he falls to the ground. Still makes great contact, but it's right at Frei.
18th—More defty passing in the box leads to Nagbe getting a shot, but Morgan defends him well and the shot is easily nabbed by Frei. Stefan is getting a ton of work here early.
21st—Koeverman chips one from distance to try to catch Perkins off guard, but his shot is wide and right. Good idea, though.
23rd—TIMBERS GOAL After Plata gets a great shot off after breaking free in Portland's box (which hits the far post and rebounds nutmegs Horst), Portland immediately counters on TFC and Johnson fires one right-footed past a diving Frei. Toronto caught too far forward as Zizzo broke up field, laid it back to Chará, who then played it to Johnson. He took a touch & smashed it to the lower-left corner. Diego gets the assist and that's Johnson's first MLS goal. Portland leads, 1-0 and the north end is smoking.
27th—Nagbe leaves one into space for Chará and Portland earns a corner. Chabala boots it in and Toronto's able to clear to midfield.
29th—Toronto should've tied it there. Perkins knocks away a cross and it goes right to de Guzman, who airmails it. Probably had enough time to get a touch on it, but he went for the one-timer and it sailed on him. Lucky break for Portland.
31st—Zizzo and Chará go back and forth and Diego is taken down in the box. No foul.
32nd—de Guzman rips another shot, but again it's well wide. His body language screams "frustrated" as he follows through on the kick, which barely moves Perkins. If Toronto wants to get back in this one, they need to put those kind of chances on-goal.
34th—Koeverman knocks Alhassan to the turf and Jewsbury knocks a free kick from 45. He puts it on-goal and Frei gobbles it up.
35th—Zizzo does very well to get into the box, but the ball gets tangled up in his feet a bit once he reaches his destination. He slides one under a TFC defender and to Chará, but it's cleared out.
37th—Soolsma challenges Chabala, who makes a tackle right in front of TA to give Toronto a throw-in. That leads to a lazy cross from de Guzman, and Portland gets it back.
39th—Chará makes a run up the middle and gets it to Nagbe, who's off to the races. But he's hammered by Harden, who earns the game's first yellow. Cap'n Jack lining one up front 30 yards out. Quick start and Jewsbury fires one that's high and right.
41st—Palmer rips a shot on-goal, but it's right at Frei. Timbers are getting quality shots, and they're not afraid to take 'em.
42nd—de Guzman gets another shot after a poor clearance by Brunner, but Perkins is there to pop it up and away. Timbers counter with Zizzo in space, but he can only shoot from distance. Frei's all over it.
43rd—Palmer, Zizzo, Nagbe and Chará on the right side—damn, that's a lot of speed and skill with the ball on one side of the field.
45th—Palmer plays one long to Nagbe, but Frings out-muscles the rookie to get to it first. Good idea by Palmer, but it was almost as if Nagbe didn't quite expect that long pass. That's purely the result of playing two games together so far.
Two minutes of extra time ... Chará picks up a yellow. On ensuing possession, Morgan lobs one on-goal, but Perkins steps up and makes the save. Timbers holding tight while TFC desperately go for the equalizer before half here.
HALFTIME: Timbers lead 1-0. Portland dominates the first half and has the majority of chances. They're playing with aggression and confidence, and have shown some new stuff on the counter-attack. Impressive first 45 for the Timbers, especially for Chará and the new guys, Palmer and Chabala.
One note: Jeremy Hall is not in the 18 tonight, which during the transfer window, certainly raises my ample eyebrows. With two defensive-minded guys just signed and now starting, I can't help but think he might be on the move and is being held out to avoid injury. He's listed on the pre-game notes with "groin soreness," and FWIW, he wasn't on the 18 for Portland's match at Columbus, but that backline is mighty crowded, and Hall is by no means untouchable. I could be way off base, we'll see ...
Some stats: Portland out-shot Toronto 8-5 and had six shots on goal to TFC's one. Big stat there. If that trend continues, this one should be a win for the Timbers. Portland's season high for SOG is seven in 90 minutes. They should blow that away tonight.
And we're back at it ... For TFC, Peri Marosevic enters for Soolsma. No changes for Portland.
46th—Chará gets behind the D, but Frei is all over it in the opening seconds.
47th—Nagbe gets one to Chabala in the top of the box and the new guy rears up for a shot but it's deflected away immediately.
49th—Koevermans blasts one low and left, but it's just wide of the goal. Perkins dives for it but it's out of his reach for a goal kick.
50th—A couple of players go down and Johnson is slow to get up for Portland. A pass is threaded in for de Guzman, but Perkins gets to it first.
51st—Chabala picks up his first paperwork as a Timber when he takes down Eckersley near midfield. Ensuing free kick leads to a Ryan Johnson header, but it's defended well and snagged by Perkins.
53rd—After Horst out-muscles de Guzman and clears to Johnson, Eddie nearly nets his second one with a nice strike in the top corner of the box. It's just over the cross bar, but Frei had no chance on it.
54th—Johnson knocks one off Eckersley to earn Portland its second corner. Jewsbury takes it and it drops down right in front, but Johnson can't get to the other end. Horst is called for a foul and Toronto possesses.
55th—Niftiest passing of the night from Toronto, and it leads to a chance from Plata. Horst slides in to knock it away and it's a corner for TFC. Ensuing kick comes through, but it has too much mustard and Harden can't get a big enough piece on it to threaten Perkins.
56th—Portland earns a PK ... Chará gets past Iro and the Toronto defender clearly trips Diego. Penalty kick from Jewsbury on its way.
57th—PORTLAND GOAL Jewsbury crushes it down Main Street and Frei has no chance diving left. Portland leads 2-0. Chará earns the foul in the 18 and Cap'n Jack sends it home as Portland is in complete control of this one.
60th—A cross goes in for Johnson, who gets a head on it, but Chabala knocks it down. With his hand? Yeah, maybe, but the ref didn't see it and we play on.
61st—Chabala knocks one long to Alhassan, who's swarmed. Portland has a throw-in coming. For Toronto, Terry Dunfield enters for de Guzman and Portland now has a corner.
63rd—Chabala curls it in from right in front of TA and Brunner gets a flying header on it. But it hits the post and is cleared. Portland's a few inches away from putting a stranglehold on this one.
65th—Horst plays one toward Zizzo, but there's too much on it and Toronto gets the throw-in deep in their own end.
66th—Toronto's been the more dangerous team so far this half, but Portland's defense has held firm. Eddie Johnson continues to be very active.
67th—Zizzo plays one ahead to Johnson, but Frei gets to it first. Toronto counter and Koevermans gets into the box and rips a shot low, but right at Perkins.
68th—Long ball played forward to Koevermans, who nicely back-heads it to Plata. But he's tackled in the box by Horst and it's cleare dout.
69th—Toronto subs Javier Martina for Harden. A striker for a defender.
70th—Jewsbury bends one from deep, but it's no threat. Probably the type of shot he wouldn't have taken a few weeks back, but it's definitely clear that Portland is trying to make the opposing keeper work.
71st—TORONTO GOAL Marosevic goes right and beats Perkins low after a touch by Nagbe. Plata with the assist. Things just got real quiet in here. Portland still leads 2-1, but Toronto is the more dangerous side at this point in the match.
72nd—Zizzo with a run down the east side and gets a shot off. It's knocked away and the rebound finds Alhassan, whose shot is immediately knocked down.
73rd—Koevermans gets one right in front but his shot goes right into the leg of Plata and bounds away. Super lucky break for Portland there.
74th—Kenny Cooper enters for Alhassan. Fans let out a big "COOOOOOOOP."
76th—Jewsbury plays one over for Cooper, who gets a header on it but not enough to scare Frei. Nervous time for Portland, which has allowed NINE GOALS in the final 15 this season.
77th—Ryan Johnson crosses one into the Portland box, but Brunner is there with the clearing header. Toronto showing some confidence passing.
77th—Martina crosses one deep in Portland's end and it nearly goes in. Perkins didn't have a chance, but it goes high.
78th—Ball played ahead to Cooper, who's taken down in the box. No foul.
79th—Martina with a dangerous cross in front for Koevermans, but Chará steps in front.
80th—Toronto on the attact again as Martina crosses just a few yards from the goal line. Perkins is there, but TFC is spending way too much time in the south end if you're a Portland fan.
81st—TORONTO GOAL And you could see that one coming. Toronto was absolutely LIVING in Portland's end and and Koevermans finishes like the DP he is. Plata with the assist after Koevermans redirects a cross into the far post from 10 yards out. We're tied at 2 and it's another blown lead inside of 15 minutes for Portland. Perlaza enters for Nagbe.
83rd—Palmer rockets one in from distance and Frei has no shot, but lucky for him it's wide. A possession later, Perlaza gets a header right in front, but Frei gets a hand on it. Ensuing Jewsbury corner is low and knocked away immediately.
85th—Portland avoids a TFC corner, but Ryan Johnson is able to cross in and put a scare into Perkins. Toronto is pressing hard here and so far, the Timbers aren't rising back to the challenge.
87th—Plata threads one to Martina, but there's just a bit too much on it. If that's on-target, it's a goal for Toronto. The Portland defense has absolutely evaporated in the last 20 minutes.
88th—Chabala had Jewsbury free down the left side, but he can't find him. Horst then plays one into the corner for Perlaza, who gets to it. He puts it back for Zizzo, who sells getting tripped over the ball well enough to earn a dangerous free kick.
89th—Chabala swings one in from just inside the sideline, but it's too high for Johnson to get a head on it. Goal kick goes to Cooper, who plays one long for Johnson, but too long.
90th—Plata fires one from 25 yards out and Perkins just gets a hand on it. Portland then lets the ball hang around a bit too long, but they're bailed out with a TFC foul. Three minutes of stoppage.
STOPPAGE: Perlaza gets a shot off, but it's way off the mark. A bit of a wasted chance in Toronto's end.
Plata and Martina are the best players on the field right now. Plata gets behind the D and just can't get a handle on it before he's knocked cleanly to the pitch inside the area. Portland weathering the storm as Toronto attacks.
Martina whips a cross in, but Horst is able to head it out.
FULL TIME: It's a 2-2 draw, and there are definite boos coming from the sellout crowd here. Portland absolutely leaves two points on the table, and it's written all over their faces.
Just back from the VERY QUIET Timbers locker room. Spencer arrived at his post-match presser a full 25 minutes after full-time was signaled, and his voice sounded a tad hoarse. Once in the locker room, there was no music and certainly no smiles as the Timbers know full well they let this win slip away.
A draw? This one feels much more like a loss, especially after Portland played some of its best soccer of the season in the first 45.
Some final stats: Timbers out-shot the Reds 20-17 (a season high for PTFC) and Portland had 11 shots on goal (another high) to Toronto's six. TFC had seven shots in the final 20 minutes and had Portland firmly on its heels. And that anxious feeling certainly didn't end with three whistles: Portland now faces seven matches in August, the month that will determine their playoff fate. If they kept up the first-half form for the full 90, this one could've been a catapulting victory. Now, with the world-beating Galaxy due in town for a nationally-televised romp on Wednesday, the Timbers again need to re-group and shake the crushing late-goal-allowing tendency that's dogged their confidence and kept them from rising in the standings.
Here's Spencer's subdued post-match presser. I'll have a full re-cap tomorrow. Until then ...