Soccer Outsider: United-Portland match diary

October 2, 2012

Portland is a tough place to play. Small field. Turf. A raucous crowd full of surly, meat-deprived hippies. Banners. Smoke bombs. A Pig Pen-style cloud of hippie stench enveloping the south-end goal. Timber Joey celebrating every goal by cutting a slice off of his “log” (actually a soy and tofu-based log substitute). One point would have been a good result for United on Saturday night.

Mathematically, the Timbers — who are in second-to-last place in the West, who have the worst goal differential in the league and who are winless on the road this year — can still make the playoffs. That math must be done by the same people who do budget math for political campaigns.

Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Korb, Jakovic, McDonald, Najar | DeLeon, Kitchen, Saragosa, Neal | Pontius, Pajoy. The Timbers play on a small, turf field, so on the one hand I understand why we’re not seeing Boskovic; he’s best when he has a lot of space. But on the other hand, I don’t understand why we’re not seeing Santos; set pieces and hold up play will be important.

Here’s kickoff from Jeld-Wen Field, formerly PGE Park, formerly Civic Stadium, formerly Multnomah Stadium, formerly Crazy Josiah’s Beaver Pelt Emporium, formerly Tillamook Longhouse #344, formerly a bunch of big trees.

5’ – Caleb Porter, the man United wanted to hire before it hired Ben Olsen, will soon be coaching the Timbers. When United was courting Porter, he said that he didn’t want to coach an MLS team. Now he’s coaching the Timbers. You know what, though: that’s cool, fine, Caleb, totally fine. We’re happy. Yeah, we’re doing really well. Things are awesome. So, sure, fine, coach the Timbers, see if we care.
13’ – Harkes says that there’s a chance De Ro could return this year, but he didn’t elaborate. I’ll keep checking the boulder in front of that tomb to see if it’s suddenly been rolled away one morning.
21’ – I like the way United is playing: winning second balls, crisp in possession.
30’ – In the past three minutes, United has had a back-pass go out for a corner and a near own-goal. So, to review: Portland, the city: extremely clean. Portlanders: not particularly clean. D.C. United’s play in Portland: intermittently clean.
31’ – By the way: I was born in Portland and lived near there in junior high, so the Portland hippie jokes are delivered with much love and the knowledge that the jokes are completely deserved.
35’ – I am not comfortable with Jack Jewsbury’s name; it sounds like it might be an ethnic slur. For that matter, I am not comfortable with Bright Dike’s name (pronounced “DEE-kay”), either.
40’ – Dike pounces on a Korb back pass, but Dike puts the shot wide. Hamid and McDonald clap for Korb instead of yelling. When Hamid and McDonald don’t yell at you, you know you screwed up.
44’ – The ball comes off the referee twice in a row, and for the third time this game. That’s what you get when your field is the size of a Tokyo storage locker.
Halftime: 0-0. This has been a pretty well-played 0-0 so far. Pontius has been dangerous, and the passing has been pretty good. The atmosphere is great.
46’ – The turf in Portland is good enough that the match is not ruined. I remember seeing a Portland Timbers game as a kid that was played on the same stuff that was on the Brady Bunch’s lawn. That was about 1992, post-NASL, pre-MLS; I believe that the Timbers were a two-credit class at Portland State University at that time.
57’ – And here’s the sequence of events that may decide this match: Pontius hustles to keep the ball in > corner > throw-in > Cross from Kitchen > ball brushes Horst’s sleeve > PK is called > Timbers heap abuse on the linesman > replays are inconclusive (Horst definitely had his arm out but the ball may or may not have clipped his arm) > Dave Johnson reminds us that United had not converted a penalty kick all year > I remind myself that I don’t believe in the commentator’s curse > Pontius drills the PK into the net. 1-0 United.
64’ – Kitchen plays Pajoy behind the defense, but Pajoy can’t get a shot off! If it wasn’t for his finish against Philadelphia, I’d say that Pajoy chokes in front of goal.
67’ – United hasn’t allowed a goal in 308 minutes. ESPN once ran a stat like that that said “hasn’t allowed a goal in (however many) minutes OF PLAY”. Yes, ESPN: “of play”. We assumed that. The stat isn’t impressive if it includes time spent eating, sleeping and just generally not playing soccer.
70’ – Songo’o gets a yellow card for stealing the ball while Hamid was mid-punt, which you definitely, definitely cannot do (FIFA Law No. 12: “No one is allowed to interfere with the goalkeeper’s ability to put the ball back in play”). But Jaime Moreno did it in Philadelphia a few years ago and didn’t get called, so you have to admit it’s worth trying.
75’ – Hamid falls backwards awkwardly. They’re giving Hamid the concussion test, which consists of the following questions: 1) Do you intend to vote? 2) For whom do you intend to vote? 3) Would you characterize your support as “weak”, “moderate”, or “strong”? This is how Washington Post-ABC polls are conducted.
78’ – GOAL PORTLAND! 1-1. That was a messy, sloppy, small-field goal. I’m not sure if anyone did particularly well or poorly, but 1-1 is a fair scoreline.
80’ – Portland has decided to just foul Pontius. At this point in the season, the “we’re going to protect skill players” directive that precedes every season has pretty much worn off.
84’ – Boskovic and even Hamdi “behind Long Tan on the depth chart” Salihi are in now, so I wonder if something is wrong with Santos.

Full time: 1-1. Okay: a point. I’ll take it. I’m an adult; I am all about lowering my expectations and then being satisfied when those expectations are met. Obama 2012.

Player ratings:
Hamid: 6. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem he has a concussion, and thankfully, he was actually tested for one before the training staff said “dude, you’re fine”.
Korb: 5. Pretty good showing aside from the almost-disastrous back pass.
Jakovic: 6. Canada has called him up. If he gets injured, I’m going to argue that a Canadian shadow conspiracy is sabotaging United’s season, but then again I blame a Canadian shadow conspiracy for most things.
McDonald: 6. Good distribution tonight, good game all around. It’s strange that not too long ago the Quakes let him go for cheap; he’s clearly a quality MLS center back.
Najar: 6. His positioning is iffy sometimes (that’s to be expected), but his defending is by no means atrocious.
DeLeon: 5.5. Credit to DeLeon for playing well on a night when the conditions (small field, aggressive defense) didn’t play to his strengths.
Kitchen: 7. Excellent distribution; he connected a lot of passes and didn’t give the ball away, which is easily done in tight spaces.
Saragosa: 4. He put himself in the right spots but tackled poorly.
Neal: 4.5. The best thing he did was pinch inside so that Najar could get forward.
Pontius: 7. Pretty much all of our offense went through him.
Pajoy: 4. We are all in an abusive relationship with Lionard Pajoy. Just when we’re ready to write him off, he’ll do something really impressive and we’ll give him another chance.
Boskovic/Salihi: 5, D.C. United’s foreign scouts: 2. We’re in the middle of a playoff race, and our two most recent major foreign signings combine for 14 minutes.
Robbie Russell: no rating.

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Steven Goff | October 1, 2012