|Seriously, this own goal is a thing of beauty. Thank you, Colorado.|
Portland had already played a tense affair in New York City back on July 7 in breaking NYCFC's lengthy unbeaten streak in 2019 with a gutty 1 to 0 victory, but the schedule added some anxiety when the U.S. Open Cup bracket put Portland and Los Angeles Football Club within the same bracket to battle on July 10 in the USOC quarterfinals. LAFC dismantled the Timbers in the match following the Timbers - Rapids snowmaggedon fixture, and added insult to injury when they traveled to Portland and beat the Timbers in their 2019 home opener on June 1, but the tension has been brewing with both sides since last year's series of contentious meetings. LAFC ended the Timber's USOC run last year at their place in a strange back to back meeting (the teams met in MLS play days before the USOC match), but Portland earned some revenge in posting a dramatic 1 to 0 win to advance to the semifinals against Minnesota United FC in August 2019. Portland has already been rotating their squad since midweek matches started appearing in their schedule - The Timbers played a midweek match versus the Galaxy weeks ago in USOC play while MLS put Montreal midweek for Portland between home matches with Houston and FC Dallas - so the likelihood of newer names in the starting eleven would very probable.
|Kei Kamara vs. Claude Dielna was a huge battle all night.|
Savarese has been rotating his squad regularly over the past few weeks, and this match saw some new names among the game day eighteen. Steve Clark has effectively taken over the starting goalkeeper's role, and he again was in goal for the Timbers with Kendall McIntosh listed as the backup due to Jeff Attinella having a shoulder injury. With Larrys Mabiala having played several matches in a row, the center back rotation put Claude Dielna and Julio Cascante as the starters, with Marco Farfan and Jorge Moreira flanking as the fullbacks. With Modou Jadama also injured, the Timbers' bench was thin on defenders with just Zarek Valentin available as a substitute. Savarese rotated the defensive midfield, giving Cristhian Paredes a break and starting Renzo Zambrano and Diego Chara as the defensive duo with Paredes available as a sub. On the wings, it was the familiar duo of Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, who have been rotated in the past few matches, and they would be joined by Dairon Asprilla as the third wing. Portland could bring Marvin Loria, Tomas Conechny or Andy Polo off the bench if needed, but for this trio of attackers to work, they would need Asprilla to pull his weight alongside Valeri and Blanco. As the lone striker, Jeremy Ebobisse would get the start with Brian Fernandez available if needed, giving Jeremy a chance to play more central that he has in the past weeks. For Savarese, this was a good chance to see what some players could do in unfamiliar combinations, especially with another busy week coming up with 2 matches again in a week.
|Diego Valeri celebrates his penalty conversion with some gusto|
Portland was presented with the first big challenge of the match in the 10th minute when Kamara tangled with Farfan on a 50/50 ball midpitch and Farfan stayed on the turf after trying to clear the ball. While the contact didn't appear to be significant, it was serious enough that Marco's night was done early as he was replaced by Valentin. The teams traded back and forth chances in the subsequent moments with Kamara putting a turn and shoot effort in the 18th minute right to Clark after some decent buildup, while Ebobisse was the recipient of a superb Blanco cross in the 20th minute, but his shot was saved by Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard. The back and forth battle took a wild turn in the 27th minute off a corner kick conceded from an Abubakar clearance. Valeri put the ball to the spot intended for a teammate, but Rapids defender Tommy Smith jumped ahead of the play to head the ball clear, but inadvertently put the header into his own goal for a 1 to 0 Timbers lead. Honestly, in the years of watching MLS action, this was by far the prettiest own goal I've ever seen live. The celebration was short lived, however, as the Rapids scored off the subsequent kickoff when the defense lost track of Lewis on the left flank off a forward pass, and Lewis was able to bury the shot before any Timbers player could react while the Timbers Army was still celebrating the first goal.
|Contemplative goalkeeper is contemplating.|
The second half saw no moves for either side, but there did appear to be some escalating tensions between the groups. Valeri and Smith were both carded in the first half for hard challenges, but Center Official Kevin Stott had allowed several huge bumps and tackles to go uncautioned or even not called. Colorado was taking an approach of pressing the Timbers and physically challenging their space anywhere on the pitch, and within the first few minutes of the half, there were several hard fouls where Stott waived off the call. The situation boiled over in the 55th minute when the Timbers pushed forward on the left with Moreira linking with Blanco at the top of the box, but before Sebastian could put a shot on frame, Rapids midfielder Diego Rubio elbowed Blanco in the back causing him to tumble to the turf. The play continued without a whistle as the Timbers protested and several boos broke out in the crowd, but things got worse when Lewis made a through pass to Kamara at mid pitch and Cascante executed a slide tackle from behind to take out Kamara and the play. In the follow through, Cascante took out both legs in a scissors tackle, and Stott immediately flashed a red card for an immediate ejection. Admittedly, I didn't think the initial contact on Kamara was that serious until I saw the full replay of the tackle, but that still doesn't excuse the lack of a call on Rubio outside the box. Rubio made no effort to go after the ball, it was a hit from behind yet Stott chose to waive play on.
|Renzo Zambrano played all over the pitch this night. Literally.|
With Zambrano playing more forward in an offside trap but the rest of the defensive line backwards on the right, Rapids midfielder Danny Wilson put a pass from left to right that caught substitute Rapids midfielder Sam Nicholson in stride in space on the right. From many angles, it appeared that Sam might have jumped the line early, but upon review, he was onside with the pass with Zambrano not playing farther back, and before the defensive line could react to the situation, Nicholson was able to put the shot into the left corner of net past Clark to level the score at 2. As in the first half when Portland got the goal, Colorado countered it nearly immediately. The teams traded runs back and forth down the stretch with Fernandez getting two near misses late, while Shinyashiki had a couple of blocked shots from good spots. Neither side could break the deadlock, and while the match ended in a 2 all draw, the Timbers appeared rather fortunate for the result. Considering they traveled from coast to coast to play 2 competitive, emotional matches on the road, and they lost a player to an ejection in the second half, the result might be lucky. However, for me, it appeared that the Rapids played the match very aggressively and physically, and Portland was never able to deal with this intensity. The talent and circumstances provided enough situations for the Timbers to rescue a point before the next tough stretch of matches are coming.
|Timbers Coach Gio Savarese is moved by tributes to his father's passing.|
Melano joined the team under great fanfare in 2015 under one of the bigger contracts the team had ever granted to a player, and Melano's goal in the MLS Western Conference Finals was a huge piece in that overall championship run. In 2016 being one of the key cogs of the team, Melano struggled to produce, netting just 3 goals in 31 appearances and the team sent him on loan for the 2017 season back to Argentina. He returned to the team in August 2018 to rejoin the side, but in 15 appearances since then, he tallied just 1 goal in 15 appearances. As much as Melano showed glimpses of talent and skill at times, he never produced with enough regularity to meet the expectations from his contract. Timbers General Manager/President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson has indicated there are moves forthcoming for the Timbers, but that the core of players - Blanco, Valeri, Fernandez, Chara, Mabiala and others - is fairly well set, and it's a matter of mixing in some of the promising youth - Loria, Conechny, Zambrano, Farfan and Paredes - with this group while adding some other pieces to enhance the group. It will be interesting to see what the Timbers eventually focus upon - I am sensing another addition to the center back rotation and some wing/scoring depth are likely targets - but I'm not expecting anything announced for a few weeks. As much as it makes sense to add talent, it's important to find the right persons to augment the efforts on and off the pitch.