It took 28 matches, but Portland seems to have found its lineup.
With two home games remaining and their postseason hopes still on shaky ground, the Timbers welcome the San Jose Earthquakes tonight for a 7:30 p.m. match (Fox 12, 750 AM, 101.1 FM) at the House of Pane.
Crucial? Do or die? Make-or-break? Pick your label and run with it, because tonight's game is one of Portland's last chances to take advantage of its home pitch and grab three points.
And with that in mind, coach John Spencer is fielding the same crew that looked so dominant on Saturday: Darlington Nagbe will again start up front, and Portland will once more look to take advantage of its speed with Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chará and Sal Zizzo roaming the midfield.
Unbeaten in its last four matches, Portland has recorded three straight shutouts, and with 36 points sits knotted with New York for 10th place overall on the Major League Soccer table. The Timbers showed they were indeed playoff-caliber on Saturday with a 3-0 drubbing of New England, but it's results that get you in the playoffs, and right now, Portland needs every point it can muster. Of course, grabbing the triple looks like a distinct possibility on a mild evening in the Rose City: San Jose boasts just one win in its last 15 matches and the injury-plagued Earthquakes have had trouble finding their footing down the stretch.
Can Portland's new-look lineup put on an encore performance?
Click past the jump, and follow along as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the pitch.
San Jose—Jon Busch in goal. Chris Wondolowski and Khari Stephenson up front. Simon Dawkins, Ramiro Corrales, Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca at midfield. Justin Morrow, Bobby Burling, Nana Attakora and Steven Beitashour on defense. Corrales is the captain.
Portland—Troy Perkins in goal. Darlington Nagbe and Kenny Cooper up front. Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chará, Jack Jewsbury and Sal Zizzo at mid. Mike Chabala, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner and Lovel Palmer on defense.
The U.S. Women's national team, which will take on Team Canada at JW-F tomorrow night, was honored before the match. The talk in the press box is centering on Hope Solo. Can't imagine why.
And we're underway ...
1st minute—Perkins with a boot deep into San Jose's end and Nagbe's the target. He wanders into the box, but Busch quickly gets to it.
2nd—Zizzo with a steal at midfield and attempts a pass to Cooper, but San Jose steals it back.
4th—Back-and-forth action here as both teams feel each other out. Not as much frenetic energy as last match early for Portland.
5th—Alhassan finds Chabala down the east sideline, but Chewy's cross is mis-hit and isn't a threat. He doesn't look happy about it.
6th—Nice touch in the box by Stephenson to find Wondolowski, but his chip is a bit long.
8th—Dawkins gets free down the west sideline and crosses to Corrales. He gets it back to Stephenson, who fires a shot, but Perkins is on it.
9th—TIMBERS GOAL COOPER! Nagbe gets loose in the box and creates the chance, crossing to KFC right in front. Cooper doesn't get all of it, but he easily beats Busch to put the Timbers up 1-0. The Earthquakes had controlled early here, but Nagbe's creative play leads to Cooper's second goal in as many games.
11th—Timbers Army chanting "Kenny Fucking Cooper!" as the smoke wafts over midfield. SJ shot from distance is wide left and Perkins lines up the goal kick.
12th—Alhassan with a fantastic spin move at midfield and great pass to find a sprinting Zizzo down the west sideline. Sal centers to find a sliding Nagbe in front, but Busch gets in great position and makes a HUGE save for the Earthquakes. If Nagbe scores there, this place implodes.
13th—An ill-advised foul by Futty 35 yards out sets up a free kick.
14th—Ensuing kick right off the wall, but it's played back in as Perkins goes to his left and nabs it.
15th—Play stopped as Busch gets medical attention in the box. Not sure what the injury is, but if the SJ keeper is trying to slow Portland's momentum, that's one way to do it.
17th—Another long-range shot from San Jose, this one from Corrales, but it's well high. Portland will be fine giving those kind of shots up all night.
18th—Dawkins and Stephenson go back-and-forth in the box and Stephenson goes nutmeg on Brunner to find Dawkins for a shot. It's quick and low, but Perkins smothers it.
19th—Earthquakes spending a bit too much time Portland's final third as Brunner fails to clear. Timbers don't have the same pep as Saturday night, but every time Nagbe gets near the ball, it seems to pick up.
20th—Case in point: A long ball played for Darlington and San Jose quickly clears it out of trouble to give Portland a throw-in.
21st—Perkins caught in no man's land and gives up a cheap corner.
22nd—It swings in and leads to another chance from distance, but that shot floats into the box and Perkins pulls it down.
23rd—Earthquakes keep it alive and manage a couple shots in the box as Portland fails to clear. Ball gets popped up as Cooper attempts to get it out, and it falls to a pair of wide open 'Quakes. They're offside, but San Jose is proving to be the aggressor midway through the first half.
25th—Baca cracks one from distance, but it's right at Perkins, who stomachs it and lines up a goal kick. Timbers quickly give it away on a longball, which has been the trend tonight. Not much action going through the midfielders for Portland, which executed its offense much, much better against New England.
26th—Wondolowski centers for Stephenson, but Perkins is there. Corner kick cleared out, but not after San Jose gives Portland a bit of a scare.
27th—Zizzo with a nice run and great stop-and-turn move in the box. He shoots it left-footed, but it's a bit high and wide.
29th—Zizzo's cross goes long to Alhassan, who tries to bend one into top far corner. It's high and wide, and probably wasn't the best use of that possession. Brunner goes down near midfield, but he's back on his feet.
30th—Earthquakes still out-playing Portland everywhere but the scoreboard. They're sustaining possession, while Portland seems content to play the long ball. Another Dawkins shot from distance right at Perkins, who gobbles it up.
32nd—Morrow with a cross and Attakora nearly nets one with a great header from inside the box. Will that warning shot wake up Portland? Defense has been lackluster at best so far, and San Jose seems poised to score one here before half.
33rd—Long ball to Stephenson, who manages to stay onside. His attempted cross is smartly knocked away by Futty, and Portland concedes a corner. They play it short, but Baca's shot is well wide. Timbers Army steps up the cheering, sensing their team needs a lift.
36th—Brunner and Futty knock domes in the box going for a Cronin header. Perkins with a smart play to dive on it before it crosses the goal line, and the Portland keeper lines up a goal kick.
37th—Palmer with a bad clearance, which leads to Wondolowski getting possession in the box and earning a corner as Chará makes a nice defensive slide. Corner flies in, but Portland's defense handles it.
38th—Morrow with another long shot, and Perkins gets under it. Another long goal kick, and this time, Portland tries to work some possession.
39th—Jewsbury finds a lurking Nagbe at the top of the box, but his shot is immediately knocked down. Chará gets a hold of it and fires, but he's well wide and right of the goal.
41st—Nagbe gets it at the top of the box and finds Cooper, who lofts one in from 25 yards out that Busch is forced to deflect over the crossbar. Nice little idea there, the sort of shot a confident player takes. That's right, I used the words "Cooper" and "confident" in the same paragraph. Timestamp it.
43rd—Futty with a header off the corner to find Palmer, who whiffs on it, but he was offside anyway.
44th—Great slide tackle by Jewsbury as Beitashour makes his way into the box.
45th—Alhassan with a cross for Nagbe in the box, but it's just out of the rookie's reach. A fine idea, just a bit too strong.
One minute of injury time ... San Jose not exactly attacking, just sort of possessing and biding their time. They get to Portland's last third and Baca attempts a cross, but nobody's home.
HALFTIME: Portland leads 1-0 and they're fortunate, frankly, to carry that lead into the locker room. Compared to Saturday night, Portland looks like a shell of its best self. The defense seems a step off and the offense, well, isn't working at nearly the frantic pace they excelled with against New England. Lots of long balls, not much possession and a lack of creativity is dogging Portland, perhaps along with some tired legs. Still, Portland will need to pick it up in the second half if they want to get out of here with a win.
Some halftime stats: SJ out-shoots Portland 10-8 and gets 4 shots on goal to Portland's 3. Perkins with four saves, and the 'Quakes have four corner kicks. The Timbers have just 1. SJ possesses nearly 75% of the time, and they have 252 passes to Portland's 92. Those stats not to be reversed or evened out, or Portland's not going to hold onto this one.
And we're back at it ... No changes for either side.
47th—Chará finds Zizzo up the middle, who gets it to Alhassan. Nothing doing.
48th—Long ball played to Nagbe, but he's called for a foul. Crowd doesn't like it.
49th—Alhassan flattened by Baca and Chabala drives a free kick right to Busch. No threat there.
50th—Corrales takes down Nagbe from behind to give Portland a free kick. Jewsbury bends it in to Futty, whose header pops off his head and goes high.
51st—Alhassan gets inside and fires a shot past two defenders. Rebound goes to Nagbe, but he's dragged down from behind in the box. No foul and the crowd hates the non-call. Corner kick comes in and gets loose in front, but San Jose clears.
52nd—Nagbe and Alhassan are both down. Cronin gets a yellow for his challenge on Kalif. Nagbe's injury looking more serious at this point after he comes together with an out-of-control Corrales. The training staff is on it.
54th—Jewsbury lining it up at midfield and fires. Nagbe comes back on and San Jose makes a run into Portland's end. Dawkins squeezes past the defense and fires, but it's high.
56th—Wondolowski has two runs at the ball in Portland's end, and the first is chased down to Brunner. The second brings Perkins off his line, and he goes sliding to grab it out of danger.
57th—SJ earns a corner and Baca drives it in. Chabala runs to it and clears it away. Earthquakes must've gotten a simple message at halftime: "Be more physical." And they listened—San Jose is battering Portland right now, but the Timbers are not breaking ... yet.
58th—Beitashour with a downright dirty play, shoving Alhassan into the bench after he crosses the west sideline. Timbers need to keep their heads as the Earthquakes are really trying to push Portland around.
60th—Zizzo with a nifty steal and long ball played for Nagbe, who appears to be back to full speed as he chases it down.
61st—Timbers get a throw as Cooper is tripped up. Palmer heaves it to Chará, who finds Cooper for a long shot. It's struck well, but it sails on Kenny and San Jose will have a goal kick.
62nd—Zizzo with a cross, but Busch nabs it out of the air before Cooper can get a head on it. Good thing, too, because if both those guys missed, Alhassan was lurking in the background.
63rd—Chabala with a short throw to Jewsbury, who gets it back to Chewy. He knocks a great cross to Brunner, who has an unmarked header, but Busch gets in front for the save. A better-struck header would've scored there.
64th—Chará with a chance in front, and Stephenson returns the favor, getting a shot of his own in front on the counter. Timbers get it back and Alhassan again tries to go far-top-corner, but no go.
65th—Kalif with a creative pass to find Cooper on the run. He crosses long, and it makes its way back to Alhassan. He tries to find Nagbe in front, but Darlington can't quite get enough of a header on it. Timbers starting to show some offensive life here, completing passes instead of just playing the long balls and hoping for the best.
67th—Zizzo finds Nagbe on the flank, and he earns Portland a throw as San Jose is forced to knock it away.
68th—Nothing doing on the throw, and on the counter, Beitashour with a nifty move to get deep in Portland's end. He tries to cross, but Stephenson is caught offside.
70th—EARTHQUAKES GOAL Stephenson lines one up at the top of the box and blasts one left past a diving Perkins. It seemed as if it was bound to happen sometime, as Portland's defense did not come out on top of its game tonight. We're tied, 1-1. Now the question is, can Portland avoid an embarrassing loss?
72nd—Stephenson gets another one in front, but Chará with a huge tackle in front to save a goal. Portland is reeling a bit here.
75th—Jorge Perlaza enters for Nagbe.
76th—For San Jose, Maxwell Griffin enters for Cronin.
78th—Apologies for the delayed posts. Press box internet speed mimicking Portland's defensive effort at the moment. Not good.
79th—Brunner (of all people) with a nice run up the middle. He finds Zizzo, who attempts a long cross to Cooper. Jewsbury takes a short throw-in and bends one to the far post, but nobody's home.
80th—Stephenson tackled by Jewsbury 15 yards into Portland's end. Cap'n Jack issued the yellow card.
81st—Baca with a corner kick and finds Attakora, whose header is just outside the far post. A good chance there for San Jose, which looks like its primed to steal three points here tonight. Portland needs to pick it up.
83rd—Stephenson fires from 45 yards out, but it's wide left. James Marcelin enters for Chará.
84th—Stephenson plows his way through Portand's defense, and Corrales gets a shot off, but it's high. Another good chance there for San Jose.
85th—A nice flurry for Portland on the counter at the Timbers pick up the crowd a bit. Alhassan tries to squeeze one into the box, but it's cleared out. Bright Dike enters for Cooper as Spencer uses his final substitution.
87th—Perkins with a huge save. Morrow centers to Wondolowski, who heads it right on-frame. Perkins saves the day, but SJ gets a corner kick. It's played in and cleared, and San Jose fouls Zizzo to give Portland possession.
88th—Chabala with a cross into Zizzo, but there's a bit too much on it. SJ goal kick coming. Perlaza gets into a footrace and earns Portland a corner.
89th—Chabala plays it in and it's deflected to Alhassan. He knocks a nifty ball back in, but Brunner can't re-direct it back toward the goal. A fine chance for Portland there. Might it be their last?
90th—Desperation time for both sides. Nobody wants to leave two points out here. Corrales lofts one to Wondolowski, but his pass is high. That could've been real trouble for Portland.
Three minutes of stoppage ... and shit's about to get hectic.
Timbers get a throw-in deep in SJ's end, and Chabala takes it. His throw hops into the box and over Futty, but Busch is there to clean it up ... Dike and Baca battle for the ball and Bright wins that battle. Baca then takes it out on Alhassan and earns a yellow. Marcelin plays a long free kick into SJ's box and the Timbers knock it around. No threat though, and San Jose clears.
FULL TIME: It's a 1-1 draw. Timbers get the point they need to get back into the top 10, but they have to feel like they left two more on the field tonight. A lackluster performance in comparison to Saturday night, and if Portland fails to make the playoffs, this is a match they'll point to. Heading down to the locker room. Back in a few with some more thoughts.
Back from the locker room, and there was definitely disappointment in the air. Spencer's post-match presser was surprisingly upbeat, considering the Timbers put on a rather tepid performance in what was a crucial match. And if you think it was important heading into tonight, think about how Portland fans will feel should the Timbers miss the playoffs by a point. This match, at home against a team with little chance of extending its season, was a golden opportunity to nab much-needed points. But that chance was squandered, and tonight's 1-1 draw is a loss, all things considered.
If tired legs were an issue after Saturday's dynamic 3-0 victory over New England, that fatigue isn't going anywhere: The Timbers now must endure a cross-country flight and walk into Red Bull Arena to face a New York team suddenly one point behind Portland in the playoffs. Portland needs a result in the Big Apple, but they'll need to show much more grit if they expect to get it.
Spencer's full post-match presser: