The Portland Timbers kicked off their fifth season in MLS, and 40th overall, in an exciting yet goalless draw with perennial nemesis, Real Salt Lake.
“Another draw,” some will say. Others may be quick to point out that Caleb has yet to win a game in March (career record: 0W-2L-6D). Season openers aren’t usually the place to go looking for recurring themes, but this time, the Timbers’ déjà vu wasn’t brought on by the usual suspects: shoddy defending, a late game collapse, or even another draw, but by one person.
It’s officially a part of the lexicon: “Rimando’d”.
In a match where the Timbers dominated nearly every goal-producing category and ostensibly won the day, when referee Ismail Elfath blew the whistle for full time, the scoreboard read 0-0. The numbers were there: 18 shots to 9 (6 on goal to 2) in favor of Portland. Crosses? 32 to 11 for Portland. Corners? Portland: 11, Salt Lake: zero.
Rodney Wallace was the first to test Nick Rimando, the diminutive USMNT ‘keeper who always brings his “A” game to the Rose City. A few minutes later, RodWall’s perfect cross had Rimando dead-to-rights at the near post, but Dairon Asprilla’s header went just wide. Undaunted, Wallace repeatedly led the charge, threatening the RSL goal from all angles, only to be denied again, again, and again.
Michael Nanchoff’s energetic cameo nearly produced a game winner, but Chris Schuler came to Salt Lake’s rescue when Nick Rimando couldn’t.
The final attacking flurry was, however, not an attempt to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat, or too-late signs of life at the end of a lackadaisical performance. This was not a 2014 Timbers draw.
They won the game, they just got Rimando’d.
Left having to deal with the one-two punch of Diego Chara’s late scratch (with a leg contusion) and George Fochive’s surprise MLS debut, the Timbers handled everything RSL threw their way. Usually Caleb Porter’s fourth and fifth options in holding midfield, Fochive and Jack Jewsbury put in outstanding shifts, worthy of a “men of the match” nomination.
Speaking of which, Liam Ridgewell and his new partner, Nat Borchers—facing his former team for the first time —looked like the pairing Timbers fans have been waiting for. They were confident and organized, working the high line beautifully and giving Real Salt Lake barely a sniff at Adam Kwarasey’s net. The new keeper was hardly tested, but showed excellent poise and foot speed, smothering attacks before they developed, while creating chances for the Timbers attack going the other way.
The (arguably) most challenging March in Portland’s MLS existence marches on.
Next up, no less than the defending MLS Cup Champion L.A. Galaxy. Unlike RSL and their magic goalkeeper, Bruce Arena’s gang have had surprisingly little success in the Rose City. Remember Mike Chabala’s log slice karate kick? How about AJB’s electric, stoppage time game winner? (I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more GIF)
In four seasons, the Timbers are 3-1-1 versus the Galaxy at home.
LA’s struggles in Portland were never for lack of star power. Now, like David Beckham before him, Landon Donovan is gone. Their big-name signing, Steven Gerrard, won’t suit up until July. Consider Bruce Arena un-phased. LA dispatched the Chicago Fire 2-0 at home in the league’s opening match, with three regulars—defender A.J. De La Garza, midfielder Baggio Husidic, and keeper Jaime Penedo—on the bench, nursing preseason injuries.
They still have Robbie Keane.
The 2014 MVP scored last week, but his (controversial) celebration was for the game’s second goal. The winner was netted 15 minutes into the second half by Jose Villarreal. Who? The 22-year old midfielder is, along with forward Gyasi Zardes, a homegrown player, and a product of the Galaxy’s outstanding youth system and glut of local talent. Like Real Salt Lake, the Galaxy don’t rebuild, they reload.
Meanwhile, Diego Chara, returned to full training this week and should be ready to go. The Colombian workhorse’s physical style of play, work rate, and distribution were all sorely missed against RSL, but the Timbers still looked solid at the back and created a bevvy of quality chances offensively.
Putting away those chances is the bigger concern.
All three forwards—Fanendo Adi, Maxi Urruti, and Gaston Fernandez—had moments, but the best scoring chances of the evening fell to midfielders. The trio of Nagbe, Wallace, and Asprilla looked locked in, tricky, and dangerous.
The difference between Salt Lake and LA’s style is where having Chara back will benefit the Timbers most. RSL rely mostly on solid team play, discipline, an international-quality holding midfielder, and that darn keeper. LA plays a flat 4-4-2, with a physical, technically-sound midfield of Stefan Ishizaki, Juninho, Husidic, and Villarreal. In goal, Jaime Penedo is a step down from Rimando, as are most. They do, however, possess one of the better back lines in the league in Robbie Rogers, Leonardo, Dan Gargan (or de la Garza), and Omar Gonzalez. They win with talent, timely goals, and the experience of their legendary American coach.
This match is a huge litmus test for the Timbers.
Portland carries a 400+ minute shutout streak over from last season, while the Galaxy tied DC United for fewest goals conceded a year ago. The Galaxy play a much more open style than most teams with stout defensive records, and with a healthy Diego Chara, Portland will look to hit the Champs on the counter-attack. There should be chances, but they must be converted into goals.