Game 16: Timbers 1 – Sporting 2By: mao | July 3rd, 2011
Portland failed to win at home for the fourth consecutive game in a 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night. Only a stunning goal from Darlington Nagbe could give the Timbers any semblance of hope in a mostly dire effort against a compact and talented Sporting side. Portland did have three key chances in the second half to equalize and relied on several fine saves from Troy Perkins to keep the Sporting tally at just two, but ultimately it was not enough to prevent a sixth game from passing without victory. The woeful month of June, with one point gathered from four matches, extends into July with Cascadian rivals Seattle Sounders due to arrive in eight days time.
Sporting used a 4-5-1 formation and powerful rookie center forward CJ Sapong to control the pace and availability of the game. Though the Timbers held the majority of possession in the match it often led to very little with Kansas City overwhelming Portland’s strings of passes before reaching that crucial final third. Sapong contributed immediately, gathering Omar Bravo’s pass, besting for once undersized Eric Brunner, plowing toward goal and easily beating Perkins for a 1-0 lead on fifteen minutes. His celebrations aside, Sapong was far too strong and just fast enough to trouble Brunner and Futty Danso all night. Accustomed to trailing early this season, the Timbers were not instantly dead, but a second just four minutes later enacted that status. A long throw-in from Matt Besler was flicked on by Sapong to an on-rushing Aurélien Colllin, who needed only to nod the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead before the twentieth minute.
Having surrendered twice in twenty minutes the Timbers looked completely out of sorts, unable to fathom a way through the over-crowded midfield. Repeated long balls from Rodney Wallace dropped to no one, and while Eddie Johnson, starting in place of Kenny Cooper, worked hard, he could not combine well enough with Jorge Perlaza to affect a change of the score line. Only Nagbe’s brilliant, measured strike brought the Timbers Army back to life. Juggling twice a ball punched out by Sporting keeper Jimmy Nielsen, Nagbe waited and unleashed a sliced shot just in front of the reaching head of Futty and perfectly past the retreating fingers of Nielsen. The stadium erupted on Nagbe’s debut goal and the half ended with Portland seemingly set to battle back into a game long since dead.
Perlaza finally got involved in the second half with Khalif Alhassan and Diego Chará providing the service necessary to bring the Colombian striker back onto the score sheet. Yet his first attempt sailed just high and his second was nicely saved by Nielsen at his near post. Otherwise the better of the opportunities came from Sporting on counter attacks and free kicks. Graham Zusi, the MLS Player of the Month for June, continued to play at an exceedingly high level and forced a solid save from Perkins in the eighty-first minute. Roger Espinoza and Miloš Stojčev both barely cleared the crossbar and Sapong nearly doubled his scoring total in shooting just wide in the eighty-third minute. So the game fell to Jewsbury in the eighty-ninth minute. A Wallace throw-in and return set up his cross that bred confusion and a poor clearance on the part of Sporting. With the ball at his feet twenty-five yards away, Jewsbury lined up a shot against the club where he played for eight years and pulled it just to the left of what was a mostly open net. The score held and that was it for the Timbers.
John Spencer promised changes and he delivered in bringing Johnson and Steve Purdy into the line-up. Yet it seemed that his formation once again failed, especially in the teeth of the five-man midfield of Sporting. A late change brought James Marcelin in for an exhausted Nagbe but the supposed 3-5-2 was far too loose and far less attacking than was necessary to chase the goal that could have earned at least a point. Instead of solving some of the team’s problems by talking tough and instituting change, Spencer is now left to ponder what, if any, changes he can still make. Certainly at least trying a different formation to start a game could help, though if the 4-3-3 of the New York match or the 3-5-2 from last night are any indication, Spencer either does not know how to move his players into a formation that works or his players are incapable of breaking free from the constraints of the same old 4-4-2. Regardless the Timbers appear rudderless both in tactical awareness and most glaringly in on field execution.
With high flying Seattle Sounders due as the next opponent there are few tricks left for Spencer to try to inspire his side. Most of the players do not have the history of the rivalry in their past to rely on and the 1-1 draw at Qwest Field in mid-May seems oh so far away now. The crowd will be in full force, but when aren’t they? The atmosphere relied upon to win five consecutive home games earlier in the season has done nothing to provide emphasis to a set of players stuck in the rut of poor play, low confidence and steady decline down the league’s table.