As though they were unearthed from a cold dark place of rain and unseasonably cold weather, the Portland Timbers awoke to the sweet sun of summer to put a beating on the Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0. It was as if someone had found the old 1985 single of David Bowie and Mick Jagger dancing about the London Docklands and blasted it through their very being. How could you not play well on a night like this?
While the score sheet will only show the one goal and Portland could have easily had two to three more, it was perhaps the most complete and dominating league game the Timbers have played all year. Led by this season’s revelation, Bright Dike (pronounced DEE-kay), the Timbers go into Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against Seattle on Wednesday night with confidence, style, and plenty of verve.
Mick Jagger's other duet with Bill Clinton on Saturday in South Africa, however, did not go as well with the USA being knocked out of the World Cup in a gut wrenching 2-1 loss versus Ghana. Though Ghana is the only remaining African nation left in the tournament and makes for a great story, one can’t help but feel that the US missed a golden opportunity to make a real run in the Cup—perhaps as far as the semifinals.
More on the Timbers, great photos, and the US in the World Cup after the jump.
The Rowdies—with their NASL-esque garish green and yellow kits—came to Portland having lost three in a row. It was the first matchup between these two teams this season and the Timbers pounced from the get go.
Lil’ Alex Nimo continued his excellent play of late with wonderful ball distribution and movement. He was given free reign to roam about across the pitch with carefree abandon. The team as a whole played some of the most aggressive attacking soccer as they have all season—particularly in the first half—winning open balls and maintaining possession throughout.
(As a side note, I can’t help but wonder if the Timbers will make a play for Nimo’s services as they move up to MLS. He was drafted by Real Salt Lake and been on loan to Portland for his first two years ever since. His development is wonderful to see and being a hometown Portland boy, watching him roam the PGE Park pitch for many seasons would be a welcome development. Perhaps more than any other player this season, Nimo has made the most of his opportunities to play.)
And then there’s Mr. Dike. In the 15th and 25th minute, Dike had excellent shots on goal—the second via a sneaky lil’ nutmeg from Nimo. Towards the end of the first half, Dike made his own luck by picking Tampa Bay defender Julian Valentin’s pocket, creating space, and rocketing a shot past Rowdie keeper Daryl Sattler which rattled off the post.
There was little of note for Tampa Bay at all in the first half with next to nothing in the way of attack. Shots fell in favor of the Timbers 15-3 and it was safe to say the Rowdies came out for the second half still somewhat shellshocked. As the play continued after the break, it appeared that perhaps the Timbers were growing a bit complacent. However, they did not make any mistakes and it felt like it was only a matter of time before someone would break through.
Finally in the 73th minute, a long through ball was played to Timbers forward George Josten who had just entered the game a minute before. As Josten controlled the ball, two Tampa Bay defenders converged and he bounced a quick pass to the now wide open Dike flying down the right side like Harrison Ford and Paul Le Mat's hot summer drag race in American Graffiti. Except without crashing and burning. And there were no cars. And, okay, perhaps the metaphor is strained but it feels like summer now and . . . forget it. Dike is the MAN. With only the keeper to beat, he blasted a low shot past Sattler and all 8,892 fans in the stands erupted with euphoria with hundreds of teddy bears cascading down onto the field as part of the Teddy Bear Toss donation program.
Unlike some defensive breakdowns in games earlier in the season, the Timbers did not give up a late goal and Dike’s strike stood till the final whistle. The team as a whole played solid across the board with particular notice given to midfielder Derek Guadet who enjoyed his third straight start. Guadet wasn’t flashy but he did well in tracking back on defense and settling the midfield. Takayuki Suzuki came on late in substitution to provide some dangerous attacks along the left side and veteran defensive maestro Scot Thompson continued his stalwart yeoman’s work.
After some early season inconsistencies that seemed tied to the incomprehensible cold wet schizophrenic weather, this rise in play—much like the glorious summer sun—is timely with the much anticipated matchup with Seattle on Wednesday night. Here's hoping for a doozy of a game later this week.
POR: GK Cronin, D Thompson, D Smith, D Danso, D Cameron (Purdy, 85), M Nimo, M McManus, M Gaudet (Keel, 85), M Pore (Suzuki, 68), F Dike, F DeMartin (Josten, 72)
TBR: GK Sattler, D Valentino, D Valentin, D Kljestan, D Diaz, M Ustruck, M Adjeman-Pamboe, M Milien (Nyazamba, 45), M Buete (Yates, 67), M Tan (King, 67), M Yamada (Gyorio, 77)
POR: Dike, (Josten), 73
Lineups and scoring summary courtesy of Portland Timbers
As for the USA’s World Cup game on Saturday against Ghana, it was a tough pill to swallow—especially after Landon Donovan's heroics just a few days earlier. Few would argue that Ghana has a better team, but the US continued their recent habit of putting themselves in a tough position, giving up early goals at both the beginning of the match and the beginning of overtime. Read Zonal Marking’s excellent tactical breakdown of how the US broke down. Seriously, their examination unlocks the game's intricacies like few others.
In other World Cup matches, Uruguay advanced to take on Ghana, Germany throttled England 4-1 thus setting off English national panic and soul searching, and Argentina, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez and Gandalf beat up on Mexico 3-1. Unbelievably poorly missed key calls infected both the Germany v. England game and the Argentina v. Mexico clash and though two deserving teams did win, had the calls been made correctly, a different outcome for England or Mexico would not be out of the realm of possibility.
With all this soccer madness going on, I continued to fret and frown about the US’s lost opportunities. A Swiss friend from across the pond however, offered these words of encouragement, “You still made it further than France or Italy.”
Coming into this World Cup, who would have made that bet?