If there's one thing that's certain following the Timbers' heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to San Jose on Tuesday night, it's this: Coach John Spencer values MLS success above all else. Or, at least, above advancing in the U.S. Open Cup.
Portland was eliminated from the tourney to decide America's top club team and handed its first loss at home in the most gut-wrenching way possible—a goal in the final (120th) minute of a marathon match that appeared destined for a shootout.
The match itself was as rough-and-tumble as it gets (eight yellow cards, 45 fouls) and for many Portland fans, the frustration of losing in the 11th hour was only compounded by the fact that Spencer stuck with his reserves well into overtime.
More after the jump, including a full-length *video* of Spencer's rather chippy post-game presser, along with *audio* interviews with Steve Purdy, Sal Zizzo, Spencer Thompson and extensive EXTRA TIME links for a rather extended match.
I can't say I blame Spencer for keeping his starters on the pine and elevating MLS success above a possible U.S. Open Cup run. Hell, with more than 7,000 empty seats in the stadium, it's clear casual fans feel the same way about the importance of MLS vs. USOC.
But attendance aside, a starting XI simply can't be expected to play three matches in seven days, so at some point during the tournament, the Timbers would be faced with the decision of who to play and who to sit. Spencer simply got this choice out of the way early, and though the first loss at home hurts, there's no doubt the Timbers skipper would be lauded for his gutsy call should the result have been different.
Take a look at Spencer's post-game presser, and you'll see he has no regrets. And while I don't buy into the whole "we don't have a reserve team" notion, I do believe the Timbers, their fans, the city and MLS as a whole are much better served with Portland making an MLS playoff run, rather than tenuously plodding along in the U.S. Open Cup tournament:
Still pissed? Well, take a gander at the calendar: Four of the club's next five matches this month are at Jeld-Wen Field (with May's only road game on the May 14 at arch-rival, and 2010 USOC champ, Seattle), meaning this could very well be the most critical stretch of the season for Portland in terms of gaining momentum for a playoff run. Three of those are MLS matches, and if this team continues to play with the energy and passion they've shown at home—and can somehow put some of that mojo together on the road—the postseason is not out of the question.
Still, this one stung for the guys who saw action on Tuesday. I caught up with a few of the standouts in the locker room, and, as expected, their moods were hardly upbeat.
Defender Steve Purdy talks about losing in the last moment, focusing on MLS play and which of his teammates impressed him. Key quote: "It sucks to say it, but you've got learn from it and remember it takes one second for a team to score."
Midfielder Sal Zizzo on defending for 119 minutes, getting up in Steven Lenhart's grill and how he's feeling after coming back from injury. Key quote: "You go to sleep for one second, and they score."
A rather dejected Spencer Thompson on the "brutal" loss, his play overall and coach Spencer's faith in every player on the roster. Key quote: "It's the worst feeling in the world. You battle for 119 minutes and give up a goal and it's terrible. There's just nothing that compares to this feeling."
Portland won't have much time to bemoan this loss: They're back on the pitch Friday in an MLS match against Philadelphia. First kick is set for 7:30 pm.
EXTRA TIME! Links that'll never be accused of being reserved.
• Tuesday's match "was more like a junior varsity scrimmage than a normal MLS match," according to The Trib's Stephen Alexander.
• The match was missing something, particularly "energy, most of each team's starters, and to a lesser extent the fans," says The O's Geoffrey C. Arnold.
• The match "wasn't a thing of beauty," according to Paul Danzer of The Columbian.
• Despite the tough loss, Ryan Gates of Stumptown Footy has high marks for Spencer Thompson and David Horst.
• Mao of The Offside wonders if the Timbers preferred not to advance in the U.S. Open Cup, especially considering they "play so horrifyingly bad away from home, each match in Portland is extremely important."
• Timbers Insider Kelly McLain says the loss puts the Timbers' focus "back squarely on league play and earning a coveted playoff spot."