PORTLAND — The final act of the Portland Timbers season included some of the angst-filled moments that were a constant on their 2012 journey.
But, Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes provided some reasons to smile, and perhaps some hope that the Timbers aren’t as far from becoming a force in Major League Soccer as their eight-win season might suggest.
“To come back and tie against the best team in the league is a good positive for the organization,” said Gavin Wilkinson, who now will return to being only the general manager after also coaching the team since July.
“I thought the second half response of the guys was fantastic. I thought we put them under pressure, created numerous goal scoring chances and did well.”
San Jose finished with the best record in the league this season (19-6-9). But Portland (8-16-10) had a win and two draws head-to-head with the Earthquakes.
On a rainy afternoon at Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers shook off a suspect penalty kick goal for the Earthquakes and played an energetic final half.
Bright Dike, one of the feel-good stories of the last third of this season, scored his fifth goal in 12 games to pull the Timbers even.
And rookie central defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste held his own against the league’s goal-scoring champion.
Sure, Chris Wondolowski scored his 27th goal of the season — tying Roy Lassiter’s league record for a season. But it came on a suspicious penalty kick, a fact that didn’t surprise Timbers defender David Horst.
Horst, who wore the captain’s arm band because Jack Jewsbury (and fellow midfielder Franck Songo’o) had the day off as a reward for their recent play, said he had a feeling the Earthquakes might get a break on Saturday.
“The MLS, they like things to go their way and so I probably saw that PK coming before the game started,” Horst said. “I thought the guys did a great job, though, from there on out. He (Wondolowski) didn’t have too many chances after that.”
The penalty kick was awarded by referee Mark Geiger when Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, scrambling to recover after racing out of his penalty area, swept the ball away from San Jose’s Steven Lenhart. Lenhart fell dramatically to the turf, and Geiger called the foul.
For the Timbers — who became the fifth team in MLS history to go an entire season without being awarded a penalty kick at the offensive end — the goal was the most frustrating moment of an aggravating first half.
With Wondolowski often dropping into the midfield to claim possession, the Earthquakes had the better of play and with a little luck would have scored two legitimate goals before halftime.
After halftime, Darlington Nagbe moved inside from the wing, giving Portland more of a presence in the middle of the park. The result was more room for the Timbers outside backs to work the wings, and a big shift in time with possession.
The tying goal came in the 67th minute when Portland’s Eric Alexander stole the ball near the attacking 18-yard box and slipped a pass to Dike. San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch stopped Dike’s first shot but the ball bounced back to Dike for an easy finish.
In the minute before the tying goal, Wondolowski had two shots at setting a new goal-scoring standard. In quick succession, Portland goalkeeper Donovan Rickets dove to his left to stop a sharp-angle attempt, then Wondolowski saw a header whistle just wide of the post.
Pushing for a possible winner, Wilkinson made three substitutions in the final 15 minutes. Among them was Brent Richards, who Wilkinson said he inserted because Portland wanted to pump crosses into the goal mouth and Richards is one of their better players in the air. The rookie from Camas played the final seven minutes and took one shot that was blocked for the last of Portland’s eight corner kicks.
When the final whistle sounded, the Timbers gathered to circle the field holding a sign that read: “To the league’s best fans: We will repay you.”
That task falls first to Wilkinson and incoming head coach Caleb Porter. On Saturday, Wilkinson pointed to San Jose’s 2012 season as a blueprint for the Timbers. The Earthquakes had only eight wins in 2011, finishing behind the Timbers in the standings.
“We can’t go back to the drawing board and rip things up to our detriment,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve got to add quality pieces that have value to the organization and to the team, and create a positive environment.”