Defensively Confused Quakes Draw Portland

Despite scoring three goals against the run of play, standout performances from striker Chris Wondolowski and goalkeeper John Busch, and a characteristically shaky display from the Portland Timbers (8-8-11) defense, the Quakes (6-10-9) suffer confusion after a questionable substitution by Mark Watson late in the match and allow the Timbers to equalize.

With the struggle for the final playoff spot of the Western Conference looming large, both teams came into the match desperate for three points. The Quakes previously drew RSL after a controversial PK in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s favor, and, apart from Sunday’s contest at home against the Galaxy and a trip to Salt Lake City in October, their opponents for the rest of the year are either below the red line in the table or, in the Timbers’ case, are clutching the vulnerable eighth and final playoff spot. The two teams will greatly influence each other’s post-season hopes, as this was the first of three meetings.

The Quakes’ injury woes are by no means over, with none of the many injured players returning to the lineup for this match. Tommy Thompson and his young cohorts have been picking up playing time and showing flashes of promise, though Thompson still chases his first MLS goal and assist. Fans savvy with social media no doubt noticed that long-rumored (and now-signed) acquisition-target Uruguayan right-back Pablo Pintos had hopped a plane, with Mark Watson deflecting inquiries as to who was the Quakes’ new ‘trialist’ seen scrimmaging in practices prior to the match. It was clear the Quakes didn’t need anymore evidence that right fullback, after season-ending surgery to German import Andreas Görlitz, the struggles of MLS veteran Brandon Barklage, and the serviceable but unspectacular performances of out-of-position left-back Shawn Francis, was still a Steven Beitashour-shaped hole.

Portland opened the first half on the attack, with the Quakes allowing a number of shots and set pieces early, including chances for Diego Valeri off a shot and a free kick that were both saved by John Busch. If not for Busch standing on his head, notably on an amazing reactionary save to deny a free header for Liam Ridgewell off of a perfect cross from Diego Chara, the Quakes would’ve been down a considerable number of goals in just the first fifteen minutes. Luckily for the Quakes as well, the shots that Busch couldn’t reach were off target, including a through ball from Darlington Nagbe to Fanendo Adi that Adi shot low and just wide. The Quakes defense was having difficulties clearing the ball, and managed no meaningful attacking possession during the opening 20 minutes. Finally, and completely against the run of play, the Quakes managed to attack up the left wing, with Shea Salinas splitting two Timbers defenders and taking a low shot that Donovan Ricketts saved. The scrambling Timbers had issues clearing the rebound, allowing a hustling Salinas to take another shot that ricocheted off the left post right to Wondo, who buried the shot from the top of the 6-yard box. Shout out to Tommy Thompson as well, for when Salinas initially lost the ball trying to either dribble past the two Timbers’ defenders or play a give-and-go, it was Thompson’s touch into his stride that saved possession and allowed the scoring chance to occur. Following their opening goal, I’d hoped for some more San Jose possession, but Portland was immediately back on the attack. A cross found Ridgewell on the far post, who headed the ball unchallenged to Adi, and only a great defensive run from Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, who tracked back from the top of the 18-yard box to the goal line, disrupted the play and allowed John Busch to smother the ball. Adi had another chance on a breakaway after a ball over the top of the Quakes backline, but Jason Hernandez was able to get to the ball and clear it. San Jose managed to find some attacking chances on the counter, with the most promising being a Shea Salinas chip attempt that just went wide. Some sloppy defending on the other end led to another chance for Adi, but he scuffed the shot and Busch made the easy save. Near the end of the first half, both teams had more scoring opportunities, but neither could find the final pass, remain onsides or finish, particularly for the Quakes when Sam Cronin skied a shot over the crossbar after being fed a low cross from Salinas from the left end line. As the whistle blew, the Quakes were lucky to be out to a 1-0 lead, as they had allowed 19 shots, with eight of those on net, as well as ten corner kicks.

In the second half, after some initial Timbers possession, it wasn’t long before the Quakes were able to add to their lead. Sean Francis and Tommy Thompson combined on the right wing to release Cordell Cato into space outside the 18-yard box. Cato cut in and passed to Wondo, who was looking to feed Sam Cronin who was making a run into the box, but his pass deflected off Kah and rolled unchallenged for Cato to slot it first-time low past Ricketts. Liam Ridgewell especially was caught ball-watching on the play. Not long after, however, Portland was on the attack, with a Diego Valeri through-ball finding Gastón Fernández, but the Argentine put the shot wide. But Portland were knocking on the door, and were not to be denied. Minutes later, Alvas Powell received a beautiful chipped pass from Diego Valeri and San Jose’s defense, even with five defenders near the ball, couldn’t prevent Powell from scoring. Jason Hernandez made a lunging leap in an attempt to jostle Powell before he could settle the ball, but it merely took him out of position. Portland found themselves on the attack immediately after the goal, winning a corner that Will Johnson still thinks was a handball, despite replays to the contrary. The Timbers midfielder received a yellow for his troubles, and should get a nod for Tantrum of the Year as well. The Quakes weathered the corner, as well as another great chance for Adi in which he turned on Sam Cronin at the end line but fired a shot wide. In the 61st minute, Kalif Alhassan was subbed in for Gastón Fernández, who, apart from his one chance, was finding it difficult to make a mark on the game. Over the next ten minutes, the Quakes and Timbers each found themselves trading attacks and counters, with Tommy Thompson missing a free header from the top of the 6-yard box off a perfect cross by Cato. In the 71st minute, Caleb Porter used his second substitution, with Darlington Nagbe making way for Maximiliano Urruti. The Quakes had some effective combination play from Sam Cronin and Shea Salinas, finding Wondo with a through ball, but his subsequent goal was disallowed, as the Quakes captain had drifted a half-step offside. Portland then went on the attack, winning a corner, but the Quakes were unable to effectively clear and were slow pushing up, and Liam Ridgewell found the equalizer by tapping in a Diego Valeri ball that bounced across the face of goal. Shawn Francis earned a yellow in the 76th minute for a tactical foul as the Timbers were breaking out. I was happy to see JJ Koval come in at the 78th minute for JB Pierazzi, though again I felt that subbing out Cronin instead would’ve been the better move; my opinion was further reinforced after Cronin tried to find Wondo after some attacking buildup, but gave away possession instead.
In the 80th minute, the wheels came off defensively for the Quakes. It didn’t immediately lead to disappointment, but the seeds were sewn. Seeing the speed the Timbers had at their disposal, Mark Watson decided to bring in Ty Harden for Jordan Stewart, the assumption being that Shawn Francis would switch to the left side and… well… would the not quite ponderous Harden cover the right side? Would Bernardez? Or Jason Hernandez? That question was never really answered. It seems the Quakes were having some communications issues. Diego Valeri was allowed two quality chances while the backline was in disarray, but luckily Busch saved one and the other was put wide. For a moment, these frightful moments were banished from my mind as Wondo completed his brace in the 85th minute. It was a beautiful free header off of a cross from Shea Salinas, with Wondo making a run off Kah’s back shoulder that Ridgewell inexplicably didn’t follow. Before I had a chance to turn my couch into party central, Portland immediately re-equalized from the confused right side, as Powell fed Alhassan from the end line. The rest of the game proceeded without incident, barring a terrifying Valeri free kick that came within inches of goal, and a few yellow cards.

This was a disappointing result for the Quakes, especially after being ahead multiple times. Still, the Quakes absolutely cannot keep affording their opponents so many chances off of seemingly endless attacking possession. It was good to see Tommy Thompson getting involved and making an impact, even though he missed a perfect opportunity to tally his first MLS goal, as well as the two other youngsters, Cordell Cato and JJ Koval, have positive contributions. Cato especially impressed with his hustle play that paid off, and Koval contributed positively to the attacking buildup of the Quakes, as his pass out wide to Salinas predicated Wondo’s header. The Quakes will look to their Wednesday game against Vancouver – hopefully Pablo Pintos will be available and provide an answer to the right back situation. At the very least, we’ll be able to watch Steven Beitashour and wonder about what could have been.

(image courtesy of soccernation.com)

Richard Saunders

About Richard Saunders

Born and raised in Hartford, CT, Richard earned his B.A. English from Boston University in 2004, and transplanted to San Jose in late 2011. He is grateful for a local MLS club to root for, and became a rabid Earthquakes fan soon after his move West. When not in the office, where he works as a Technical Writer / Service NPI Engineer for a large technology corporation, you can find him hiking his favorite trails, camping in the woods and riding bikes, both mountain and road.

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