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Friday, September 16, 2011

Portland vs. New England — High-Pitched Live Blog Action

Posted by Brian Gjurgevich on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 8:00 PM

he view from section 207, row T, seat 17—a spot formally covered with a tarp during Timbers home matches. Its open tonight, increasing the House of Panes capacity to 20,323.
  • Brian Gjurgevich
  • The view from section 207, row T, seat 17—a spot formerly covered with a tarp during Timbers' home matches. It's open tonight, increasing the House of Pane's capacity to 20,323.

New England's in town, but that's not Revolution in the air—it's playoff atmosphere.

A single point removed from the 10th and final Major League Soccer playoff spot with seven regular-season matches remaining, the Timbers are seeing the whites of their enemies' eyes. So will tonight be Portland's Saratoga?

The Timbers host the New England Revolution at 8 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel's "Soccer Night in America" in the first of back-to-back home matches (the Timbers host San Jose at 7:30 on Wednesday) for Portland. It's been labeled a "must-win" match, and there's no doubt tonight will set the tone for the final stretch of the MLS Timbers' inaugural campaign. The next 180 minutes of soccer in Portland will tell us plenty about whether the Timbers will reach the playoffs, and they're pulling out all the stops by pulling back a few of the tarps: Nearly 2,000 extra seats were opened up for tonight's match, and though it looks like a few season ticket holders (looking at you, Key Bank Club) might have sons playing high school football, there's still electricity in the air for the biggest match of Portland's season. No foolin'.

Portland enters tonight on riding a three-match unbeaten streak, though, with just one game under its belt since Aug. 24, a light layer of rust may need to be worked through. New England, meanwhile, is coming off a 2-0 victory over Western Conference power FC Dallas and is on a four-match unbeaten streak—a key stretch for this not-so-revered New England club.

So, will the Revolution turn Jeld-Wen into the House of Paine? Or will common sense prevail?

Follow along after the jump as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the pitch.

STARTING XIs:
New England (5-11-12)—Matt Reis in goal. Milton Caraglio and Rajko Lekic at forward. Chris Tierney, Shalrie Joseph, Benny Feilbaber and Monsef Zerka at midfield. Darrius Barnes, AJ Soares, Franco Coria and Kevin Alston on defense. Joseph is the captain.

Portland (9-12-6)—Troy Perkins in goal. Darlington Nagbe and Kenny Cooper up front. Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chará and Sal Zizzo at midfield. Mike Chabala, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner and Lovel Palmer on defense. Jewsbury is the captain of an interesting lineup with Nagbe up front for the first time this season. Lots of speed, too, with Alhassan and Zizzo at midfield.

PREGAME:
The newly opened seats in Timbers Army are filled to the brim. The Key Bank Club? Not so much. The announced attendance will likely be a season-high 20,323 tonight, but we're not at capacity just yet.

Portland in its Rose City Red kits, while New England is sporting all blue.

And away we go ...

1st minute—New England controls early and gets into Portland's area right off the bat. On the counter, Zizzo forces the Revs to clear one over the east sideline, and a Palmer throw-in gives the Timbers the first corner of the night.

2nd—Chabala bends it in and it gets loose in front, but New England is able to get it out of immediate danger.

3rd—Alhassan gets behind the New England D and pops a header toward the goal. He gets it past Reis, but New England clears it away.

5th—Cooper sent twisting down to the turf to earn Portland a free kick. Jewsbury tries to play it too quickly and the ref calls him off the ball.

6th—Chabala will take it, and shoots it low and right into NE's defense. Goal kick coming.

7th—Revs are kicking it around and possessing, but they're no threat to Portland just yet. Playing keep-away and eventually knocking it back to Reis. Wrong way there, fellas.

8th—Alhassan chases down Lekic along the west sideline and gives New England its first corner. Nothing doing.

9thTIMBERS GOAL It's Chará on a play keyed by a pair of great touches by Zizzo and Palmer. After a steal at midfield and a Nagbe run, he and Alhassan play it back and forth before Alhassan knocks a long cross that appeared to be meant for the east sideline. But Zizzo just got a whisker on it and Palmer snared it to play back into Chará. Diego then made a nifty move to sneak it past Reis, just inside the far post. Palmer gets the assist. What a sequence and what a huge goal for Portland. 1-0 Timbers and the smoke is billowing.

11th—Nagbe with a nice run and well-struck shot, but right at a New England defender. Revs bring it right back and Feilhaber gets off a rocket, but Perkins dives for the save. A massive save there. Wow, great action here early.

13th—Chabala beats his man to the line and crosses to Nagbe, whose header is wide right. A chance there for the rookie, who will finish his share of those over the next few years.

15th—A cross to Cooper, but he can't get his large frame twisted around enough to get a solid header on it.

16th—Timbers are flying on the counter attack and Cooper earns a corner kick after a Chará run. Ensuing corner played in by Jewsbury and after a Futty shot in front, Nagbe knocks one into the net, but he's offside.

18th—Portland is playing with plenty of energy early here as the offense runs through Chará and Nagbe. Welcome to the future, Timbers fans.

19th—Fielhaber fires from distance and has Perkins absolutely fooled. He and everyone else in Goose Hollow thought Benny would be crossing, but instead Fielhaber just misses the far corner by inches. Almost tied it.

21st—Palmer with a couple steals to fend off New England, which is trying to mount an attack. Zerka tries a shot from 30 yards out, but it's wide.

22nd—Alhassan crosses in front to Cooper, who slides and strikes, but it's wide left. Wouldn't have mattered, because Cooper was offside, but a great ball by Kalif and the usual aggressive play by KFC here early. Timbers defense is playing with discipline and on the counter especially, the front line is running wild.

24th—Some nifty quick passing between Cooper, Chará and Nagbe. Fun to watch. Palmer is itching to shoot and he rattles one off, but it's wide right. The Timbers look like they have Reis a bit rattled, as he ventures past the post to gather it in. Frenetic pace by Portland up front. Like I said, a real fun brand of soccer here.

26th—Chabala with two crosses that lead to great chances. The first is headed out before Cooper can get to it, and the other one makes its way to Zizzo, but he can't quite get a solid strike on it in front. Lots of chances for Portland here. They came to play tonight. Did New England?

28th—Feilhaber is good. At soccer. Probably other stuff, too, but definitely soccer. He's a threat to score on every touch.

29th—Nagbe looking quite comfortable up front. Lots of room for the young man to roam. Chará taken down just inside midfield to earn a free kick.

30th—Jewsbury lines it in to Futty, who gets a nice re-direct header on it. It's wide of the frame, though, but again, another great chance for Portland.

31st—A Palmer shot from distance hits Cooper, knocking him down. That's all I'll say about that. New England gets a restart at the edge of their defensive third after a Chará foul.

32ndTIMBERS GOAL IT'S COOPER! Chabala crosses in front and finds Cooper, who powers into the net and thighs it in. Kenny almost looks like he can't believe it has he runs along his sideline, primal-screams and picks up Spencer like a rag doll. 2-0 Timbers.

34th—Just when you think, "Golly, maybe that goal will turn things around for ol' Cooper," it happens: Cooper gets a great chance in front off a Nagbe pass, but Kenny trips over the ball right in front of the net. On what probably would've been a sure goal. Yep, still Cooper.

35th—New England gets lucky as the ref screens Zizzo before Sal can get to a deflection off a Palmer shot. Could've been 3-nil there real easy.

37th—Jewsbury really limping around out there. Looks like that hamstring isn't fully healed. Zizzo running around in circles as the New England defense gives chase. He finally plays it inside and Alhassan tries to one-time it from just inside the 18-yard box.

38th—A wild sequence as Palmer tries to one-time a deflection but swings and misses badly. But he gets it right back and crushes a shot that smacks the post and goes right back to him. The third chance? Struck even harder, but it sails over the cross bar. A flurry of chances and again, the most up-tempo, fun brand of soccer I've seen from Portland this season. They're playing at a different level right now—and it's really just the right time for that to happen.

41st—Timbers concede a corner on a Zerka cross that Brunner plays out. Lekic is rolling around in the box and the medical staff is out there looking at him. Portland does not want to allow a cheap goal just before the break.

44th—Everyone caught off guard as New England re-starts just as Lekic is carried off the field. Portland holds them off, though, and Nagbe makes a run along midfield. Lekic being taken back to the locker room. Not a good sight for New England fans. Zack Schilawski enters.

Two minutes of stoppage ... Timbers earn a corner after Nagbe falls down and knocks it off a defender. Ensuing corner comes in and Zizzo gets a shot off, but Reis knocks it down. Nagbe goes to the rebound, but offside is called as Portland pelts Reis with attempts .... Nagbe nearly nets an amazing goal on a long pass he plays off his chest and boots toward net, but Reis is lucky to be standing in front. That would've been another golazo for the rookie.

HALFTIME: Portland leads 2-0 and is playing inspired soccer. The Timbers dominate the action in the first half and match a stout, fluid defense with a frantic counter-attack and all-out barrage up front. This is some fun soccer, folks, and if it happens to be Portland's new brand, they could be a team nobody wants to see in the postseason.

It's unofficial, but according to the north-end scoreboard, the Timbers are out-shooting the Revs 15-5. I don't doubt that number—saying Portland has been the aggressor is like saying Kenny Cooper needed that last goal. Nope, official stats say Portland out-shot New England 13-7. Not as big of a gap, but still. That has to be the most shots the Timbers have taken in a half this season.

We're back at it ... No changes for either side at the half.

46th—Long ball played ahead to Chará, but he can't catch up. Goal kick for New England leads to a throw-in from right in front of Portland's bench. The ball gets loose in front, but Portland clears it out.

48th—Back-and-forth action around midfield, and it looks like New England came ready to play this half. Nice pace by the Revs to start.

49th—Nagbe and Zizzo look like they have something going up front, but one of them is called offside. Timbers get a free kick near midfield four a foul on Nagbe. Palmer plays it in to Cooper, who gets a head on it. Revs misplay the attempted clearance and Reis has to sprint over to gather it.

51st—Caraglio nearly nets one on a cross in front, but his shot is just high. Cooper and Coria collide at midfield—it looks they knock heads—and Cooper goes right over to Coria to see if he's OK.

53rd—Just saw the replay and ... ouch. Cooper getting treatment on the side of his head and the Ace bandage is coming out. Coria bleeding pretty good as Cooper is forced to strip down at midfield and change his shorts. Cat calls follow. It looks like they had him change his shorts and cut off a large swath of his jersey. He better trade what's left of that thing to Coria, who's back on the field. No Ace bandages were unrolled.

55th—Schilawski turns and fires from the top of the box, but it's easy pickings for Perkins.

56th—Not as much fire compared to the first half for Portland. Would have been tough to replicate, but still, a bit less zest so far this half.

57th—Zizzo plays one ahead to Cooper, but it's a bit soft and Cooper is forced to cross early. Reis is all over it. Timbers picking it up a bit here?

58th—Soares shaken up as the Revs clear one deep into the west grandstands. Ryan Guy enters for Soares.

59th—Guy making an immediate impact. He gets in deep and crosses in front of Perkins. Tierney gathers the Revs' ensuing possession and crosses in again, and this time Zerka is right there for a header. It's just over the cross bar, but New England is getting legit chances right now, something that didn't happen in the first 45 minutes.

61st—Chará takes a shot in traffic that's deflected over the goal line. PTFC corner coming from the east side. Jewsbury plays it short to Alhassan, who beats his man into the box but his chip toward the goal is nowhere close to dangerous. Odd choice there for the Timbers. A bit too cute.

62nd—Zizzo turns on the burners and jukes a couple Revs before Coria puts an end to it with a hard tackle 45 yards out. Yellow card pulled, the first of the match.

63nd—Chabala knocks it into the box, but it's wide. Another missed opportunity to put something on frame for Portland.

64th—Cooper taken down 35 yards out and it's another free kick. Palmer lining it up.

65th—Palmer with a quick restart to Alhassan and another throw-in earned. Portland taking its time in New England's end, trying to re-gain the momentum in this match.

66thTIMBERS GOAL Nagbe gets this header on frame after a brilliant little pass from Alhassan. Timbers lead 3-0 and this one is all but over. Great individual effort by Kalif, who breaks down his defender and puts his cross on a dime. Wow, great goal there. Nagbe with his second goal of the season (remember his first?) and Alhassan with the assist, his sixth.

68th—Timbers looking for another as Alhassan plays it to Zizzo along the west sideline. Defended well, though and New England is trying to get something—anything—going.

70th—Foul on New England, 30 yards out and Jewsbury plays it into the box. Take your pick, Jack, because Brunner and Futty were pretty much unmarked. Zizzo gathers the rebound, but his shot sails on him.

71st—For NE, Kenny Mansally enters for Zerka. A forward for a mid and the Revs' final sub of the night.

73rd—Revs with a bit of possession and Zizzo is called for a pretty dubious foul about 25 yards out. Feilhaber free kick bent in, but Perkins is right there to gather it at his gut.

74th—Nagbe with a nice touch and Zizzo plays one forward to Cooper, who earns the Portland corner with a quick shot off the defender. Chabala lining it up.

75th—It's swung in and Futty gets his head on it, but Reis is there to go to a knee and get it.

77th—Announced sellout crowd of 20,323. Nagbe with a nice run and hits the breaks at the top of the box to fire a shot. Doing so slows him up a bit though, and the shot is immediately knocked away. If Darlington takes that into the box, he's got another goal.

78th—Bright Dike getting ready to check in. Zizzo gets one on the run and tries to cross to Cooper, but Reis gets in front of it. Nice read by the New England keeper.

79th—Dike enters for Cooper. Fans giving Kenny a nice applause as he acknowledges Timbers Army with a clap. A nice moment for Cooper, who finally gets his fourth goal of the season. Whether it leads him to a late-season scoring run remains to be seen, but you have to start somewhere.

81st—Chará with a great ball to Dike, who barrels past the defense, fakes out the keeper and gets a shot off, but the New England defender is there to slide and knock it away.

82nd—Eric Alexander enters for Zizzo.

84th—Feilhaber whips it into the box, but Futty is right there to knock it away. Ensuing possession leads to a Guy chance and a scramble in front, but nice defending by Portland as TA breaks into "You Are My Sunshine." New England with everyone forward ... kitchen sink time.

85th—Palmer with a throw-in to Alexander, who gets it right back to Lovel. The Jamaican fires it, but it's well out of Reis' reach and wide left.

87th—Alexander waits a bit too long as Alhassan and Nagbe wait for a pass just outside the box. New England counters and picks up a foul just outside the 18-yard box. Feilhaber lining it up from the left flank.

88th—Benny curls one toward the back post and it looks like it's headed toward the net, but the Timbers clear it. Ensuing corner headed by Joseph, but it's wide.

90th—Jewbury with a steal at midfield and passes to Nagbe, who is slow to respond and misses out on a breakaway chance. Spencer stretching his rookie's reserve tank a bit. New England comes back and Caraligo shoots from 25 yards, but it's wide left.

Two minutes of stoppage ... Alston fires from 25 out, but his shot is well high.

FULL TIME: Portland wins, 3-0. A dominant performance from Portland, which controls all game and shows comfort in controlling its destiny. For one night, at least, the Timbers are tied for 8th place in the MLS standings after the most complete performance out of Portland this season, IMHO. Heading downstairs, back with more thoughts in a few.

Back from the locker room, and man, it smelled like pot downstairs. Celebration may have started early for a concession worker or two, and it was so obvious that Spencer's first words as he stepped in front of the gathered media was "It smells like weed down here." But I digress ... A pretty jovial locker room as Portland celebrates a dominant victory in a match they knew they had to win. Some final stats: Portland out-shot New England 20-17 and they had six shots on goal to the Revs' three. Portland out-cornered NE 7-5 and were called offside six times, a reflection of the frenetic pace Portland's offense operated at tonight. It was a terribly fun match to watch, definitely the most exciting brand of soccer the Timbers have displayed all season. Can they keep it going? It'll be a quick turnaround, with a Wednesday match against San Jose. Another victory then would be huge for Portland's playoff chances, and they played so well tonight, they might as well label San Jose another "must-win."

Spencer's post-match presser:

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