PORTLAND — The Portland Timbers lived on the edge Wednesday night at Jeld-Wen Field.
And while they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw against San Jose’s Earthquakes, the job of making the Major League Soccer playoffs became more difficult.
Portland, which plays a key match at New York on Saturday, sits in 10th place in the battle for one of 10 playoff slots. But with four of their remaining five matches on the road, settling for a draw on Wednesday in front of 18,627 home fans greatly increased their degree of difficulty.
San Jose was at least as desperate as Portland for a win, and pushed players forward on the attack throughout the match. The most telling statistic was the Earthquakes earning seven corner kicks to only two for the flat Timbers.
“Looking at it, the chances that they had, on the night they were the better team,” Portland coach John Spencer said.
Still, Portland had control of the scoreboard for an hour after Darlington Nagbe and Kenny Cooper teamed up for a ninth-minute goal.
The Portland goal came on a play where Nagbe collected a bouncing ball on the right flank and beat defender Bobby Burling to the goal line before passing the ball to Cooper for the finish.
“The ball bounced and (Burling) didn’t know where the ball was,” Nagbe said. “I went to the other side with it, took it to the endline and saw Kenny in the box and he put it home.”
Only a fantastic point-blank stop by Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch prevented Nagbe from making it 2-0 in the 13th minute. That opportunity started with a nifty spin in the middle of the park. Alhassan’s long pass sent Sal Zizzo racing up the right wing, and his cross found Nagbe near the penalty spot.
“My first thought was just to get into the box. (Zizzo) played a hard ball across and my first thought was to just make contact with it,” Nagbe said. “I made contact and the keeper made a great save on it.”
But the Earthquakes, who equalized on a goal from Khari Stephenson in the 70th minute, were the better side for long stretches.
San Jose was the more grounded team, dominating possession by keeping the ball on the surface and limiting Portland to quick, clearing passes through the air. Keeping the Timbers on their heels for long stretches, the Earthquakes had a series of quality chances and Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins came up big with six saves.
“I think we hurt ourselves at times tonight, giving the ball up,” Portland defender Mike Chabala said. “Our movement was what was going to be key for us tonight. I think the determination to get in behind them wasn’t the best from us all over the field, to really turn them around and push forward.”
San Jose had better build up and chances that were dangerous, but it was a counter-attack that started with Portland needlessly turning over the ball on its attack that produced the Earthquakes goal. Stephenson collected a pass at the top of the arc, and his shot from 22 yards skipped inside the left post.
Spencer didn’t fault the effort on the ball, but said his team needed to do a better job running into space off the ball.
“I just think our mobility wasn’t there,” Spencer said, explaining that instead of running off the ball to create space the Timbers were too often waiting for passes to come to their feet. “It looks to me like it’s a little bit of fatigue.”
Both teams had several quality chances over the final 20 minutes as each chased a much-needed win.
“I feel like we let some points slip away tonight,” Chabala said.
And thus made their playoff prospects more precarious.
Note — Before Wednesday’s match members of the Timbers Army Northern Alliance, the Southwest Washington chapter of the fan group, presented 85-year-old Doc Proano with a Northern Alliance scarf. Proano, who lives in Vancouver, started one of the first youth soccer teams in the region in 1968. He also was part of the first ownership group for the North American Soccer League Timbers. Former Timbers Jimmy Conway and Mick Hoban took part in the presentation made by Troy Maxcy. An appreciative Doc Proano said that American soccer has come a long way in four decades, and predicted a World Cup championship for the USA is on the horizon.
TIMBERS 1, EARTHQUAKES 1
San Jose 0 1–1
Portland 1 0–1
First half–1, Portland, Cooper 6 (Nagbe), 9th minute.
Second half–2, San Jose, Stephenson 5 (Baca), 70th.
Goalies–San Jose, Jon Busch; Portland, Troy Perkins.
Yellow Cards–Cronin, San Jose, 52nd; Jewsbury, Portland, 81st; Perlaza, Portland, 86th; Baca, San Jose, 90th+.
Referee–Michael Kennedy. Assistant Referees–Bill Dittmar. Paul Scott. 4th Official–Allen Chapman.
San Jose–Jon Busch, Ramiro Corrales, Nana Attakora, Justin Morrow, Bobby Burling, Rafael Baca, Simon Dawkins, Sam Cronin (Maxwell Griffin, 76th), Steven Beitashour, Khari Stephenson, Chris Wondolowski.
Portland–Troy Perkins, Mike Chabala, Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara (James Marcelin, 83rd), Darlington Nagbe (Jorge Perlaza, 75th), Lovel Palmer, Jack Jewsbury, Sal Zizzo, Kenny Cooper (Bright Dike, 85th).