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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo: High-Pitched Live Blog Action!

Posted by Brian Gjurgevich on Sat, Apr 6, 2013 at 7:15 PM

Houston_PTFC.jpg

UPDATE!: The Timbers defeated a bunch of ruffians from Houston 2-0 behind a pair of goals from Ryan Johnson and despite an equal number of nasty injuries to key starters.

Midfield magician Diego Valeri and burly defender David Horst left the field in the first half under varying scary levels of others' power—a wobbly Valeri on the shoulder of a trainer after being elbowed in the cheek and Horst laid out on a stretcher after an ugly ankle/knee/leg twist. With two starters down for the count in the first 30 minutes, the all-out-alpha-dog-scrap predicted by Porter ensued between the Dynamo and Timbers, with the halftime whistle seemingly throwing a bucket of cold water on a match ready to roar past chippy.

With the rest of Portland's starters still in the locker room before the second half started, Johnson emerged from the North End and jogged onto the pitch. He stood almost statuesque in the midfield circle looking South toward the goal he'd soon be attacking for nearly two minutes, seemingly ready to go.

Ten minutes later, he'd be celebrating the first of his two goals, sticking his tongue out to taste the driving rain as he ran to celebrate.

"I'm always pretty eager to get out there and play," Johnson said in the locker room after scoring in the 55th and 73rd minute—his first career brace. "I got a bit of a dead-leg and just kind of wanted to get out there and see how it felt. It felt alright to keep on going, but it doesn't feel very good right now."

What likely felt just fine was Porter's first victory as an MLS coach, though the rain-soaked, Timbers-Army-scarfed skipper didn't show it in his post-game press conference. After beginning by telling the media he'd "been a little long-winded in these" Porter spoke for 9+ minutes about "fantastic" performances from sudden offensive focal point Darlington Nagbe, superb sub Kalif Alhassan and a blossoming-before-our-very-eyes Rodney Wallace. He talked about a team gaining confidence in itself and the system and a coach learning right along with a new cast of players. He praised Jack Jewsbury's "mature" play on the back line and Johnson's "workmanlike" pressure, while noting midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Chara are "starting to figure out how to play together."

It all adds up a word Porter's used a lot since arriving in Portland.

"It really looked like what we want our identity to be here with the Portland Timbers," Porter said.

So much more after the jump, including locker room thoughts/quotes, a minute-by-glorious-minute live-blog of the Timbers' first win of 2013 and full, unedited video of Porter's postgame press conference. Go!

Jewsbury said the win—and the full 90 minutes of intensity displayed by the Timbers—was something the team had been searching for. Having not played with a lead all season, it was clear the Club Cap'n liked what he saw when Portland struck first.

"When we got one, we didn't sit back and let them come at us," Jewsbury said. "We continued to play our type of game."

Johnson said Porter kept an even keel at the half (shocker!), telling the team to keep within itself after Houston clearly wanted to compliment the sloppy conditions with a scrappy physical element—a strategy previous Portland teams wilted under.

"He kind of calmed us down, just said, 'Hey, keep playing your game,'" Johnson said. "We're a good second half team and we showed it tonight."

And according to Porter, the Timbers continue to show themselves something more.

"It's important to get results for the players to realize what they're capable of doing and realize how powerful this way of playing can be," he said. "This was a big step in the right direction. This was that breakthrough that I've been looking for."

LIVE BLOG:

Leave it to Caleb Porter to make a dogfight sound downright technical.

We're LIVE from Goose Hollow as the Timbers return to The Jelly for the first time in nearly a month, sniffing around for a clash of aggression with two-time defending Eastern Conference champ Houston.

"It’s going to be a bit of two alpha dogs looking to go toe-to-toe,” said the Timbers head coach in the buildup to tonight's 7:30 p.m. match. “In the end, we hope we’re the one that comes out on the winning end.”

Indeed. Houston is already thinking playoffs, and barking plenty about landing the first bite of the night. The Dynamo's confidence is high after two straight victories, says star midfielder Brad Davis, despite just one road win in their last 17 tries.

"We want to go there and get after them," Davis said this week. "Let them know from the first whistle that we’re there to play."

Portland has done well to begin to steer its reputation toward resilient after coming from behind to earn results in three of its last four—something the club only accomplished four times in its first two MLS seasons. Porter called Portland's tendency to give up the first goal "a mental thing" earlier this week, but insisted the Timbers were on the cusp of a much-needed breakthrough.

“[Houston is] going to come in here ready to fight, ready to press, ready to attack," Porter said. "But we’re not going to back down either."

Fightin' words, unleashed! There's a steady rain falling and the West Hills have a certain mist about them. So click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe the action, on and off the pitch.

STARTING XIs:
Houston (3-1-0, 9pts)—Tally Hall in goal. Jermaine Taylor, Corey Ashe, Bobby Boswell, and Kofi Sarkodie on defense. Brad Davis, Adam Moffat, Andrew Driver, and Ricardo Clark at midfield. Cam Weaver and Giles Barnes at forward.
Also available: Luiz Carmago, Tyler Deric, Omar Cummings, Warren Creavalle, Brian Ching and former Timbers Mike Chabala and Eric Brunner. Not available? 2012 leading scorer Will Bruin.

Portland (0-1-3, 3pts)—Two-time Save of the Week winner Donovan Ricketts in goal; Club Cap'n Jack Jewsbury, David Horst, Mikael Silvestre and Michael Harrington on defense; Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Capt. Will Johnson at midfield. Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace up front.
Also available: Jose Valencia, Milos Kocic, Frederic Piquionne, Kalif Alhassan, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Ryan Miller, Ben Zemanski.

PRESS BOX SPREAD: Grilled tri-tip, pasta salad, New Mexico chili-marinated chicken breasts, Not-so-little smokies, roasted red potatoes, grilled veggies, brownies.

PREGAME: A "Little Timbers" player set the bar for celebrating tonight during the mini-game that entertains Timbers Army about an hour before each home match. The yellow-pinny-clad little shit youngster pulled off a fairly impressive rendition of "The Worm" after netting a goal, much to the delight of North End. Insufferable little brat. What a great moment.

Brunner, who played two seasons with PTFC but faded late last season with a series of injuries, said earlier this week that Portland's home-field mystique is helped by simple acoustics.

"The way the stadium's set up, the sound stays inside, there's a giant building in the back that keeps the vibrations and noise bouncing off," he said. "It stays pretty loud so you have to be on your toes when you're playing there."

The North End is pretty well filled in, but there's a quite a few empty seats around the rest of the stadium. The weather—and maybe the Winterhawks' playoff game at the Rose Garden tonight—might have something to do with that.

Porter again sporting a Timbers Army scarf as he steps into the coach's box seeking his first win as an MLS gaffer.

FIRST HALF:
And away we go ... Timbers heading toward the North End to start this one.

2nd minute—Horst takes down Davis 40 yards out and it'll earn Houston its first free kick. Davis bends it in and Ricketts comes out to punch it away as Portland survives its first bit of danger of the night.

3rd—Ryan Johnson is taken down hard about 25 yards out as the crowd gasps. It'll set up a free kick for Valeri as Johnson is slow to get up.

4th—Valeri swings it in low and Sarkodie slides to knock it away. Physical start already, which was expected.

5th—Another stoppage as Horst takes down Sarkodie. Not much rhythm to this one so far as physical play sets the tone early. Alpha dogs!

8th—Chara with a strong sliding tackle at midfield eventually leads to a nice back-and-forth between Nagbe and Valeri at the edge of the box. Davis is there to poke it away from Nagbe, but Portland shows a little danger in the run of play for the first time tonight.

9th—The Diegos come together for some more combination play, and that leads to Valeri taking the first on-frame shot of the night for Portland. It's a bit off the side of his foot, and that's no problem for Hall. Timbers winning the possession battle so far.

12th—Driver with a decent run into Portland's attacking third and leaves a nice ball for Barnes, but Jewsbury is there to chop it away. Big defensive play right there from Jewsbury, who played a bit on the back line last year but starts there for the first time in 2013 tonight.

14th—Nagbe with a little run into the box and finds Valeri, who tries a rather chippy-little-chip into the box. Houston clears, but an early exhibition of Valeri's creativity there.

15th—Barnes and Horst go hip-to-hip all the way down the field and Horst does well to deny Barnes a good look. But Horst goes down in a heap and the replay shows a pretty bad right-ankle turn. Cringe. They're bringing the stretcher out for Horst, and that'll probably be it for him tonight. Shitty for Horst, who just cracked his way back into the starting lineup last week at Colorado after battling back from a hip injury.

18th—Horst is carried off as TA chants his name. Andrew Jean-Baptiste (now listed as just plain old "Andrew Baptiste" in the official lineup) gets set to come on, but Portland will play a man down in the meantime. Portland forces a goal kick and here comes AJ-B.

20th—Barnes is upended by Baptiste about 35 yards out, straight on and it'll be dangerous free kick. It always is when Davis is a possibility to take it. Five-man wall for Portland. Davis back-heels, Moffatt takes it and drives it hard and low, but Chara is there to knock it away.

22nd—Driver makes a run right and knocks one off Harrington and over the goal line for the first corner of the night. Houston sends it near-post and it's knocked out for another corner. Davis sends it low and near-post again, and again Portland's defense stands firm. Houston starting to gain the upper hand offensively.

25th—Valeri draws a foul just inside midfield and goes down hard, grabbing his noggin. Teammates are calling for the trainer, and the replay shows Valeri taking an elbow to the face. Yikes.

27th—Valeri on his feet but getting his right cheek worked on. They're trying to walk him off and he looks like a boxer staggering out of the ring. Not good. He looks woozy and Timbers Army is raining boos on the field. Porter is screaming at the refs and gesturing with his elbow as if to say, "Motherfucker elbowed our best player in the face and no yellow?!" Alhassan getting ready to come in, and Portland is forced to go to the bench twice in the early going here.

29th—We're back at it and Portland will play a man down. Houston elects not to kick it out and let Alhassan come in, and Will Johnson is not pleased with the breach of etiquette. Barnes runs into the 18 and crosses to the middle, but it's just behind Davis. Good opportunity there for Houston, but Harrington clears it over the east sideline.

32nd—Houston misses a point-blank shot on goal after a cross goes right in front for Weaver, but he airmails it. That could've been huge. Dynamo certainly missing Will Bruin right there as Weaver somehow gets a few strides ahead of Silvestre for a wide-open look. Portland fortunate to escape without giving up a goal there.

34th—A great chest pass by Houston finds Davis running diagonally into the box. He fires low and right, but Ricketts is there for a diving save. The Dynamo are really controlling the action at this point. Timbers trying to regain their composure and figure things out after watching two key cogs get carried off the pitch.

36th—Driver with a hard tackle on Harrington right in front of the Timbers' bench and that'll earn him a yellow card. Porter is livid over seeing Driver come in cleats-up, and it'll be a free kick for Portland. Will Johnson sends it in toward the upper right corner and Hall has to backpedal to grab it. Great looking free-kick from Johnson, who put a bit of a scare into Hall.

38th—A couple of slippery moments for Ricketts, and he goes to the towel to dry the gloves. On the other end, Harrington sends one right in front for Wallace, but Hall comes out to grab it. Timbers regain possession and Chara and Johnson go back and forth in the box. Houston holds them off, but the ball ends up at the foot of Alhassan, who chips one craftily toward a couple green jerseys before Hall comes out to nab it. Portland has settled in after losing two starters, and now the Timbers are controlling the pace here.

40th—Jewsbury sends a long ball into the box for Nagbe, who collides hard with Hall. A great pass and run there, but Hall beats the speedy Nagbe to the ball and hangs on after the collision. Timbers not shying away from the longball now, as Valeri's exit has somewhat neutralized the possession style Porter loves.

45th—Johnson with a run up the middle but he waits a bit long to attempt a pass to Nagbe in the box. Missed opportunity there and Johnson looks frustrated.

Three minutes of stoppage ... Alhassan finds Nagbe in the box, but before he can shoot, he's stripped from behind. Barnes goes down on a Silvestre tackle and play goes on ... This game is getting pretty physical and Silvestre will pick up a yellow for the frustration tackle there. Porter jawing at the official and the Houston bench as Barnes hobbles off the pitch. Slap-happy finish to the half as players on both teams are not decidedly not forging lasting friendships.

HALFTIME: We're scoreless in a physical, increasingly chippy match. The Timbers looked a bit shell-shocked after losing a pair of starters to ugly injuries, but they managed to pull themselves together to survive a 10-minute-or-so stretch dominated by Houston. Five fouls for each team. Called fouls, that is. The Dynamo out-shot Portland 5-1, but the Timbers won the possession edge with 61%. Can they keep their emotions in check and steal one in what's sure to be a scrappy second half?

SECOND HALF:
We're back at it, with the Timbers heading toward the South end.

48th—Moffatt runs forward and fires one in stride, but it's well left. Teams are feeling each other out in the early going after an emotional end to the first 45 minutes.

49th—Nagbe takes on a couple defenders and pulls off a give-and-go with Wallace right in front. Nagbe shoots, but it's just wide right. Best chance of the night for Portland, which is the aggressor out of the locker room thus far.

50th—Ricketts shows off some dribbles as the big man pulls off a cut move, comes out of the 18 and drives it forward. Timbers Army loves/hates the showcase of foot skill from their veteran keeper. As in, "Sweet moves, dude, now never do that again."

53rd—Barnes drives a cross into the box for Ricketts, who skies for the ball and lands hard on his side after Weaver undercuts him. It'll be a foul on Weaver, and the crowd is booing him. Ricketts a bit slow to get up, but he looks fine.

55thTIMBERS GOAL Hey now! Chara with a run down the west sideline and plays an absolutely great ball into the box for Ryan Johnson. The Jamaican is there to chest-knock it right into Hall, who can't find the handle. Johnson runs to the sideline and sticks his tongue out to taste the rain. He'll taste green smoke in a second, as Portland leads 1-0. An assist to the Portland rain there, as Hall simply couldn't hang on to the Johnson bump. Portland with a lead for the first time this season.

58th—Nearly another for Portland as Wallace absolutely tattoos a shot past a diving Hall and into the crossbar. It ricochets off the post and nearly over the line. Wow, Wallace just smashed it, but it was a few inches too high. Portland spreading the field and possessing well now, as they play with a lead for the first time in 2013.

60th—Johnson with a shot as the Timbers' dominance of this second half continues. A lead looks good on 'em.

63rd—Chara and Driver bump heads and Driver gets the worst of it. Houston will bring on Creaville for Moffat as Driver gets to his feet.

66th—Timbers taking their time and possessing with confidence. They're kicking it back and forth along the back line seemingly without a care. That's what a goal lead will do for ya.

67th—Jewsbury with a steal and lands in front of Alhassan. He curls one high into the box for Wallace, but it's a bit long.

68th—Wallace nearly has another one as Alhassan gives-and-goes with Nagbe before sending it in front for Wallace. He fires, but Hall is in good position to smother it. He can't quite find the handle, and it'll be a corner for Portland.

69th—Jewsbury sends the corner in low and it's knocked away. No problem there for Houston.

70th—Nagbe is fouled 30 yards out and it'll be Johnson with the free kick. He again fires it on-frame, but Hall is there to collect it on the skip. That shot was cooking.

71st—Houston sub: Veteran Brian Ching on for Weaver.

72nd—Chara coming forward and gets a great pass off to Ryan Johnson just before he's dragged down. Johnson gathers it and looks to Nagbe in the middle, but it's just past him. Another great chance for Portland there—they're not resting on this one-goal lead at all.

73rdTIMBERS GOAL Portland on a counter and Ryan Johnson somehow stays onside on long pass from Nagbe down the east sideline. Johnson dribbles into the box and fires on a diving Hall, and the right-footed blast is in the top right corner. Timbers lead 2-0 behind a brace from Johnson. Book it.

76th—Houston desperate now and trying to pick things up here. Driver sends one in that's wide of the goal, then a minute later, the Dynamo cross for Ching, who heads a blooper into the box for Ricketts.

79th—Barnes draws a corner kick after fighting off both Chara and Jewsbury. Davis sends it in and Ching gets a header on it, but it's knocked away. Another corner coming. Davis sends it toward Ching again and Johnson finds Alhassan, who clears.

81st—Final sub for Houston: Omar Cummings is on for... someone.

84th—Timbers still pressing Houston with a two-goal lead. Dynamo can't get much going, especially after Portland re-gains possession and takes its time.

86th—Wallace dribbles into the box before going down and maintaining possession. He plays it back to the midfield as time continues to tick away on Houston.

88th—Final sub of the night for Portland: Piquionne for Johnson, who comes off to a roar. Huge game for him—his first career brace.

89th—Piquionne with some lovely footwork near midfield as he sprints past two defenders and down the sideline. He looks for Nagbe running in the box, but his cross is knocked away.

Three minutes of stoppage ... Ball gets through Silvestre and Cummings has a shot at it, but he's called offside just as he attempts a shot. Either way, Ricketts was right there. ... Portland has a counter opportunity, but they wisely pull it back toward midfield. Smart to bleed some clock here, and the Timbers are on the verge of their first win of the season. ... Nagbe almost makes it 3-0, but Hall is there to get a fingertip save to it.

FINAL: Timbers win, 2-0! The first victory for Caleb Porter as an MLS coach and the first home win for Portland in seven months. Despite injuries to a pair of key starters, Portland again shows its resiliency—this time to get past a physical Houston squad en route to its first victory in 2013.

HIGHLIGHTS:

FROM THE TIMBERS:

The Timbers held firm defensively in the first half despite having two players leave the match due to injury, as the Dynamo attempted just one shot on goal. Houston is one of the league’s best defensive teams in second half, but the Timbers unlocked the Dynamo back line for two goals in the second half on Johnson’s strikes in the 55th and 73rd minutes on their way to their first win of the 2013 campaign.

Portland’s defense held Houston, which ranks among the Eastern Conference's goal-scoring leaders, to just two shots on goal – a season-low by an opponent – on its way to securing its first shutout of the season.

Johnson recorded the first two-goal performance of his MLS career, midfielder Diego Chara and forward Darlington Nagbe logged assists and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made two saves to pick up the clean sheet for the Timbers, helping head coach Caleb Porter earn his first victory as an MLS coach.

With the victory, the Timbers (1-1-3, 6pts) extend their unbeaten streak to three matches and are one of just seven clubs with one or fewer losses this season. Portland has earned a result in four of its first five matches of the season.

Goalkeeper Tally Hall made four saves and midfielder Adam Moffat attempted a team-high two shots for Houston (3-2-0, 9pts), who was held scoreless for the first time this season in the loss.

Portland struck for the opening goal 10 minutes into the second half. From the right wing, Chara delivered a pinpoint cross into the box for Johnson on a run at the back post, and Johnson one-timed the ball from close range. Johnson’s second goal of the season lifted the Timbers to a 1-0 lead and gave the club their first lead of the season.

A well-played ball from Nagbe from midfield to Johnson running down the left channel led to the Timbers second goal of the night in the 73rd minute. Johnson attacked the left side of the penalty area and drove a shot by Hall and into the back of the net. It was the eighth second-half goal scored by the Timbers this season, the second-most in MLS.

The Timbers were forced to make two substitutions in the first half due to injury. Defender David Horst sustained a right knee injury early in the match after colliding and tangling with Houston forward Giles Barnes in the box. Midfielder Diego Valeri took an elbow to the face from Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor while challenging for an aerial ball near midfield and left the match in the 29th minute.

The Timbers play host to the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

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