Portland's season has seen its share of ups and downs. The question tonight is whether the Timbers can prevent the whole thing from going sideways.
One week after holding off hated Seattle in perhaps their biggest win as a Major League Soccer franchise, the Timbers appeared "distressingly uninspired" in a lackluster 3-0 loss to Colorado over the weekend. And instead of showing anger toward its team—as Timbers Army did after a shocking U.S. Open Cup loss at home to Cal FC—PTFC fans seem to be near the point of throw-your-hands-up frustration with their beloved club.
TA wants better tactics. It craves positive results. And, at the very least, the Army wants to see players reflect the passion being poured atop the pitch from first kick to final whistle. It's not as if the Timbers would be charting new territory there: Portland's 90-minute stint of grit vs. Seattle is the very reason their leg-up on the Cascadia Cup stands firm, and its first-ever-come-from-behind win on opening against Philly suggested we had a contender on our hands. But with those ebs came flows, and the Timbers' multiple head-scratchers are as well-documented as they are concerning.
So, did the Timbers pull themselves together quickly enough to take on best-in-MLS San Jose?
UPDATE: Turns out, they did! After being yanked from the game before halftime against Colorado, Franck Songo'o had a career night and Jefferson High School's own Danny Mwanga scored his first goal as a Timber as Portland held off San Jose 2-1 in a thrilling rebound victory. Cap'n Jack Jewsbury added a second goal, and the Portland defense held strong down the stretch after the starters came out with a level of intensity sorely missing at Colorado.
"A lot of people had questions for us after the poor performance at Colorado," said Jewsbury in the locker room post-game. "We wanted to prove to ourselves and everyone else we had the fight in us tonight."
Click past the jump for more locker-room reaction from the match, along with FULL VIDEO of coach John Spencer's postgame presser in which he jokes (I think) about owner Merritt Paulson paying for 15,000 fans to travel to Saturday's game at Salt Lake City. "I think it's a great idea," Spencer said. Timbers Army might agree.
PREGAME: The hottest team in MLS had been soaring until their flight into the Rose City was cancelled last night. Despite the delayed arrival, the table-topping Earthquakes still have the most road wins of any MLS side and boast MVP-caliber striker Chris Wondolowski. While Portland has struggled on the road (they're 0-5-2), the Timbers have played their best footy at home (when 20,000+ plus are holding them instantly accountable?) going 3-0-2 in their last five.
San Jose—David Bingham in goal. Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernandez, Jason Hernandez and Justin Morrow on defense. Shea Salinas, Sam Cronin, Khari Stephenson and Rafael Baca at midfield. Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon up front. Wondo is the captain and the 'Quakes are wearing all-blue kits.
Portland—Troy Perkins in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, David Horst and Steven Smith on defense. Eric Alexander, Lovel Palmer, Darlington Nagbe and Franck Songo'o at midfield. Danny Mwanga and Kris Boyd up front. Jewsbury is the Cap'n and the Timbers are sporting their green jerseys and white shorts.
And away we go ... Timbers running toward their Army.
1st minute—Quakes come out aggressively and bring it straight into Portland's final third. First whistle today goes against San Jose for a handball at midfield.
2nd—Smith sends a cross into the right corner of the box for Songo'o, but it's a bit high for him. Songo'o hustling after it, which is encouraging for Timbers fans after watching Franck struggle and get pulled before halftime at Colorado. Futty and Morrow collide at midfield and are both slow to get up.
5th—A nifty little combo play 40 yards out frees up Morrow near the top of the box, but Futty is there to put a body on him and take it away. No foul called. On the counter, San Jose is called for a foul after Songo'o goes down.
6th—Timbers certainly off to a better start than they managed against Colorado. A bit more pep in their step.
7th—Songo'o dances his way through the San Jose defense and unleashes one from just outside the top of the 18, but it's wide left. Great individual play from Songo'o, who is playing inspired ball in the early going.
9th—Songo'o with a looooong switch from the wing into the Northwest corner, but Alexander can't quite run it down. Nice idea, though.
10th—Stephenson fires one from 25 yards out, but it's high. Timbers caught giving Stephenson a bit too much space in an area he's known to strike from.
12th—San Jose with a free kick from 40 yards out looking for Wondo, but Perkins is there to tip it over the line. Corner kick comes in hot and Gordon takes a swing, but it's knocked down in the box and Futty blasts it out of danger.
14th—Songo'o service comes in well high, but Alexander is there to make a great move near the sideline to handle it. He gets it to Palmer, who blasts one well long into the corner looking for Songo'o.
15th—Songo'o gets past a defender and finds Alexander wide open in the top corner of the box. He cuts back inside and fires a low skidder, but it's OFF THE POST! Songo'o doing it all and nearly sets up Alexander for what would've been a beautiful goal. Tough break for Portland, but they're controlling this one at the moment.
17th—Wondo ends up with it at the top of the box, but his shot attempt is mis-hit and is well over a leaping Perkins. Goal kick, Portland.
19th—Smith with a great pass to Songo'o, who back-heels it to Alexander. He tries to flip it into the box for Boyd, but it's safely into Bingham's gloves. Songo'o having the match of his life right now ... dare I say, preseason form?
21st—Songo'o with a free kick from 45 yards out, but it's low. San Jose clears and has some possession before an arrant pass makes its way to Perkins.
22nd—A Futty steal at midfield sets up a nice run for Alexander, who gets it into the box for Boyd. He back-heels it to an under-pressure Nagbe, but his shot is blasted a few rows up into the stands. Not the best finish for Portland, but they're really pressuring San Jose and creating some legit chances.
25th—Timbers with some possession as things settle in a bit. Great pace to this match so far as Portland looks more like the team that beat Seattle than the team that face-planted at Colorado.
28th—Earthquakes with their best chance. Baca takes a sliding left-footed shot that bounces in front and gets to Salinas, who attempts a left-footed volley. Scary moment there for Portland, they survive it with only a corner yielded.
29th—TIMBERS GOAL It's Mwanga, who scores his first goal as a Timber. Songo'o with a nice defensive play after the corner kick to set up the counter attack. He makes his way up the field after a pass to Alexander, who finds Songo'o running up the East side. He sends it into the box and Mwanga is there with a sliding right footer into the net. Great attacking stuff there for Portland, and we have green smoke. Timbers lead, 1-0.
32nd—Songo'o again leading the break and finds Nagbe, who plays it back for Jewsbury. He works his way into the box and tries to shoot, but it's knocked over the line for a corner. That comes bending in and Horst heads it down and has it cleared off the post? Futty with another attempt on goal, but Bingham is there to gather it.
34th—Smith with a low skidder as he runs down the West sideline, but it's right at Bingham.
36th—Timbers keep getting space in the box, but both times Jewsbury has had his shot blocked.
37th—Horst takes a deflected shot off his face and gets a bit of medical attention in the box. Ouch. Jean-Baptiste is on his feet warming up as Horst is being looked at. You know what Portland doesn't need right now? Another concussion.
39th—Horst runs back on and we're back to action.
42nd—Salinas gets one in front that makes its way through the Timbers backline and looks destined for a Wondo goal, but it's just behind him. San Jose gathers and Salinas again makes his way into the corner and finds Beitashour, who swings it right at Perkins.
45th—Timbers throw makes its way into the box for Boyd, who dummies it on for Mwanga. San Jose clears and on the counter, Morrow with a long run before Horst slide-tackles it away. Great play there by Horst. Corner comes in and it's flicked on toward the far post, but long.
Two minutes of extra time ... Songo'o forces a San Jose defender to clear over the line after Jewsbury plays it to him. Songo'o takes a throw and finds Mwanga for a shot, but it's rolled a bit slow and right. Bingham is there to grab it and boot it away.
HALFTIME: Timbers lead 1-0 on a 29th minute goal by Jefferson High School and Oregon State star Mwanga. Portland showing much better form 70 hours after limping to a loss, and Songo'o is having himself quite a match.
Some stats: Timbers with 10 shots, two on goal. San Jose with seven shots, just one on goal. Timbers have won 51% of the duels, while San Jose is winning the possession with 51%.
And we're back at it ... Can Portland hold on against a team that's scored 20 goals in the final 30 minutes of their matches this season?
47th—Boyd goes into the box to chase one, but Bingham is there to sweep him off his feet in a non-romantic way. After a goal kick, Stephenson lines one up just outside the box and lets it loose, but Perkins is there to gather it in.
48th—Long ball down the East sideline taken by Mwanga, who runs a bit far ahead of it once he reaches the box and passes it back to Nagbe. He tries a shot, but it's knocked right down. Alexander ends up with it and fires a shot, but again it's knocked down. On the deflection, Palmer has one, but this time Bingham is there to make the save.
51st—San Jose with a bit of sustained pressure and Baca tries to curl one into the box for Wondo, but Futty is there to knock it away. Timbers play it long for Mwanga, but it's too long and it'll be a throw-in for San Jose in its own end.
53rd—Wondo plays one into Portland's end for Gordon, but Horst chases it down and draws a foul. Some serious speed shown there from Horst, who's having a nice outing after the entire defense struggled in Commerce City on Saturday.
55th—Salinas breaks down Smith and gets into the box. He takes a relatively uncontested shot, but it's well off the mark.
56th—Songo'o leads a counter and finds Mwanga with a beautiful pass into the box. He takes a left-footed volley and it's OFF THE CROSS BAR. Rebound goes to Boyd, but it's immediately deflected. Alexander ends up with it and the linesman raises the flag for offside. Mwanga attempt wouldn't have counted, but some heads-up play in the box for Portland, despite not hitting the back of the net.
59th—Mwanga fouled just inside midfield and it'll be a Timbers free kick. Before we get to that, however, Marvin Chavez enters for Baca. Songo'o sends in a free kick for Futty, who doesn't yield to Bingham collides with the keeper to allow the ball to squirt out in front. TIMBERS GOAL Jewsbury finishes it off and Portland leads 2-0. What a goal with a lot of contact up front, but no foul. Futty took a big risk just to go up for that one, and it pays off as he sets up his Captain for the goal.
62nd—Mike Chabala will come on for Smith and San Jose makes two substitutions, including forward Steven Lenhart.
64th—Off a throw, Lenhart spins past Futty and fires a shot, but it's just around the far post. Way too easy for San Jose, who nearly gets back into this game.
66th—Wondo fouled just outside the 18 in the Northwest corner. San Jose sends it in and Jewsbury goes high to knock it up into the air. Gordon heads it down toward the goal, but Perkins is there to grab it.
68th—Nagbe goes wide to Songo'o, who gets his feet tangled up as he goes into the box. The ball goes back to Jewsbury, who gets it forward to Nagbe. He shoots, but it's immediately deflected down and out to Alexander. He fouls his man to get to it, and it'll be a free kick for the Quakes.
70th—San Jose taking its time with some possession. Songo'o gets one ripped from him and he takes it out on the advertising board with a big kick. Timbers get it back and a long ball is played for Mwanga, but he fouls his man while trying to wrestle for position.
72nd—Songo'o is down in the center circle, and here comes the medical staff. They're stretching out his right leg and he's sitting up. While he's being attended to, Bernandez "accidentally" splashes water on him while taking a drink. Timbers trainer gives him the evil eye.
73rd—Songo'o is out, and it'll be Sal Zizzo to replace him.
74th—Quick restart and Chavez fires a shot and it's an EARTHQUAKES GOAL as Gordon follows up with the strike. It's 2-1 Portland, and the former Timber Gordon scores one in front of the Army that once adored him. Can Portland hang on?
77th—Zizzo volleys one high on an attempted clearance and Nagbe volleys one forward for Mwanga. He makes a run toward the box, but Wondo fouls Mwanga hard just outside the box. Free kick coming from 25 yards out, but probably a smart foul by Wondo there.
78th—Boyd sends in the free kick low and into the wall. Palmer has it, but he can't get the shot past his defender.
79th—Mwanga gets past the defender in the attacking third and crosses to Boyd, who goes up for a header but can't get to it. He might have taken a boot to the head, but that's the price he pays for ballsy attempt at a header in the 6-yard box.
80th—On the other end, San Jose sends a free kick into the box and off Futty. Nobody can get to it and Chavez tries to chip one over Perkins, but it's just over the cross bar and onto the top of the goal. Nervous time for Portland.
83rd—Lots of back-and-forth at midfield. San Jose with most of the possession at the moment, but Portland is holding firm.
84th—Tressor Moreno enters for Hernandez. Palmer limping hard on his left foot, and it looks like Freddie Braun will check in for him. Timbers playing a man down in the meantime.
86th—Indeed, Braun enters the match for Palmer.
87th—Chabala with a nice long ball down to Mwanga, but he can't quite handle it and it goes out. And now we have a bit of a scrum, as Futty and Lenhart are mixing it up just outside the box. Gordon and Horst getting involved, and again, the Timbers show some mettle and back up their teammate. Boyd comes over to Futty and calms him down.
88th—Lenhart and Futty with some hand-to-hand combat in the box as a long ball comes in for Lenhart. The latter is called for a foul and Perkins will have a goal kick.
90th—Futty and Gordon still talking at midfield as the Timbers take their time in San Jose's end. Long ball played into the box and Gordon with a header, but it's harmlessly over the line.
Six minutes of stoppage time ... Timbers still chasing a goal here as Boyd spins around and looks for Mwanga. It's knocked away for a Portland throw. ... Zizzo killing some clock and loses it over the line. San Jose tries to drive it forward, but Braun is there to knock it back. ... Timbers with a throw in their own end and Chabala takes his time. San Jose knocking it into Portland's area, and they keep clearing away. ... Salinas curls one in and Gordon goes high for a header, but it's wide right. ... Futty and Lenhart collide, but it looks like the latter got the worst of it. He's going to come off the field gingerly ... San Jose brings it down into Portland's area and it's bouncing amid flying bodies in the box. A foul is called just outside the 18, and it's on San Jose. Perkins will have a goal kick and that's huge.
FULL TIME: Portland wins 2-1. The Timbers beat the best team in the league, and that's some sweet medicine after a tough loss over the weekend. Huge rebound victory for Portland, which looked like contenders again tonight.
Some final stats: The Timbers out-shot the 'Quakes 19-17 and had five on-goal to San Jose's three. The Earthquakes won the possession battle with nearly 58%, but Portland won 53% of the duels. The Timbers went the final 11+ minutes without a shot, but the defense held firm in a chippy final chapter that was reminiscent of the bend-but-don't-break finish against Seattle.
Songo'o set the tone early, and his vastly improved play in the first half after being benched before halftime in Colorado established the Timbers' presence. Songo'o admitted he wasn't happy with his early exit three days prior, and that he wanted to prove himself to his teammates. But it wasn't just him.
"It was the whole team," Songo'o said "We just came from a loss, 3-0, and we weren't ourselves out there. We wanted to show we were much better than that."
Jewsbury echoed Songo'o, and acknowledged the team's all-over-the-map approach to intensity isn't working.
"We've got confidence, but the reality is, it's one game," Jewsbury said. "It's time for us to start putting two or three performances together."
Horst said plenty of fans expected Portland to build off the momentum of the Seattle victory, and after Colorado "kind of smashed us," he heard the talk about the Timbers not focusing for a full 90 minutes.
"A lot of people were questioning our desire," Horst said. "And I think tonight we went out there...and our guys proved to everyone in the league and our fans that we belong right there with (San Jose)."
"The fans give us a great home field advantage. At the end of the day, we're professionals and we have to bring it."
Mwanga said the team is striving for consistency, and that he could get used to putting a few more in the North End's net.
"Being able to score and celebrate in front of these fans, as a professional athlete, you can't get any better," said Mwanga. "It's awesome."
So much so, in fact, that Spencer is hoping to take this show on the road.
"Our owner is planning on sending 15,000 people free of charge to Salt Lake next Saturday," Spencer said in his post-match presser. "He mentioned that in there quietly, but don't tell him I told you. I think it's a great idea."
I'm pretty sure I know where the fans stand on that one. But all press-conference-kidding aside, Spencer acknowledged the performance on the field comes down to the ones who truly control it.
"Maybe there's that lapse a little bit on the road because we don't that energy from the fans," Jewsbury said. "Now it's a matter of us bringing that ourselves into the game and not relying on someone else to bring it for us."