Portland Timbers' Ten Greatest Games

   

Below is my list of the Portland Timbers’ ten greatest games. Before you start reading, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, only MLS games were considered. The sheer number of games the Timbers have played at other levels, along with the lack of highlights, quotes, and first-hand experience I had with many of those games made it impossible to include them. That’s a list for someone else to do.

Some of the games on here were no-brainers, others required more thought. There are nine home games and just one away game. Darlington Nagbe and Jack Jewsbury both started eight, Futty Danso and Kalif Alhassan seven.

There are four games against the Sounders, two against the Galaxy, and four against other MLS teams.

There are two games from 2011, two from 2012, and six from 2013. There are none from 2014, which should tell you something about how that season went.

I went back and forth on the order – especially numbers two and one. I settled on my rankings the way you see them now because while game number two had more importance, number one was the much better game.

It’s a trip down memory lane – a little holiday nostalgia, if you will – but it’s also a reminder: Each time you go to the park, you hope to see one of these games. It’s always in the back of your mind. Maybe, just maybe, this will be a great game.

Without further ado, here is my list of the Portland Timbers’ ten best.

 

1. Portland Timbers 1, Seattle Sounders 0: A Derby For The Ages

October 13th, 2013

Ricketts, Jewsbury, Futty, Kah, Harrington, Chara, W. Johnson (C), Alhassan, Nagbe, Valencia, Urruti

The wins had started to pile up for the Portland Timbers in September and early October as it became clear that the Timbers were headed for their first ever trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Meanwhile, the once formidable Seattle Sounders, with the league’s newest and most polarizing star Clint Dempsey, were floundering.

This was Seattle’s only trip to Portland during the 2013 regular season, both teams didn’t like each other, and both teams desperately wanted to win. It was as big a game as the Cascadia Cup had ever seen.

The drama started with the team news. Portland’s Diego Valeri hadn’t passed a late fitness test, meaning Kalif Alhassan played, and with Rodney Wallace away with Costa Rica, Jose Valencia started on the wing.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, meanwhile, dropped his starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, and replaced him with Marcus Hahnemann, who hadn’t played regularly for almost five years.

In part because of the Dempsey signing, in part because of the sudden competitiveness of the two sides, animosity was at an all-time high. The Timbers Army’s spendthrift, three-part tifo had the punch-line, "money can’t buy me love."

The Timbers were confident, but also, clearly, nervous – and they were all over the place in the first ten minutes as Seattle pinged the ball around the Portland penalty area.

Donovan Ricketts, in the midst of an MLS Goalkeeper Of The Year winning season, tipped a powerful header from Lamar Neagle onto the bar, and moments later, Dempsey slammed a free header from three yards of that same crossbar.

That calmed the Timbers down, and as the first half settled in, the Timbers started to take control with long spells of possession and menace from two players particularly: Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe.

As the game approached half-time, Jack Jewsbury sent in a long, teasing cross that Hahnemann started to come out to catch before changing his mind and retreating into the goalmouth. The half-clearance that his defense could muster dropped to Alhassan, who smashed his low shot into the back of the net.

His celebration was one of the worst in Timbers history, but that didn’t matter. Portland had the lead.

As Seattle couldn’t find a goal in the second half, they began to unravel.

In truth, the tone for the game had been set in the opening minutes, when Diego Chara’s open-field tackle on Clint Dempsey separated the US captain’s shoulder and went without a card.

In the 72nd minute, Nagbe was felled on a fast-break by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. While referee Hilario Grajeda was booking Hurtado, Will Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso went racing after the loose ball, because, well they’re both maniacs.

Alonso slide-tackled Johnson, who was rightly incensed, and got in Alonso’s face. Alonso’s reaction, then, was to elbow Johnson in the throat.

Half the stadium saw it. Caleb Porter saw it. And most importantly, the assistant linesman – who Michael Harrington, who also saw it, went racing after to plead the Timbers’ case – saw it as well.

After a quick consultation with Grejeda, Alonso was sent off. From there, Seattle pressed the self-destruct button. Alonso, Adam Moffat, Dempsey and others all went charging after the AR. Mauro Rosales came off the bench to get his two cents in, as did Schmid, all while Alonso had to be dragged off the field by Leo Gonzalez.

It was the most beautiful of sights.

Still, though, there was bound to be a final chance in the game, and it fell to Steve Zakuani in stoppage time. A knocked-down cross fell to the future Timber, and he smashed a volley from six yards that would have gone in, if not for Pa Freaking Kah flying at the ball, deflecting it onto the crossbar. The ball spun to Andy Rose, but his attempt on goal was cleared off the line by Jewsbury.

When the final whistle sounder, Porter turned to the crowd pumping his fists. It was Portland’s sweetest ever victory. Seattle had disgraced themselves, and the soccer gods had punished them for it.

What was great about that team, and this win? Part of it was the sense of destiny that kicked in as Jewsbury cleared Zakuani’s final volley off the line. But the magic was more in the camaraderie, the chemistry, and the togetherness that the 2013 Timbers lived for.

Go back and listen to Caleb Porter’s press conference after this game. It was the happiest he’s ever been post-match as the Timbers head coach. Everyone was bought in. And he said it right off the top – he knew that his team would win. He just knew.

That, in one of the most fractious, angry, high-stakes derbies ever played, was the pinnacle of the Portland Timbers’ MLS existence.

 

2. Portland Timbers 3, Seattle Sounders 2: Fish Gutted

November 7th, 2013

Ricketts, Jewsbury, Futty, Kah, Harrington, Chara, W. Johnson (C), Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe, R. Johnson

The Timbers were never going to lose this game. It didn’t make winning it any less sweet.

Coming in off of a spectacular run to win the Western Conference and a defeat of Seattle, in Seattle, in the first leg of their first ever playoff series, with the Sounders’ mentally and physically holding on by a very thin thread, Portland had all the confidence in the world on a cold Thursday night at Providence Park.

The Sounders were reeling. Sigi Schmid had once again changed goalkeepers, reinserting Michael Gspurning in place of Marcus Hahnemann, and had bizzarly chosen Shalrie Joesph to play up top alongside Eddie Johnson.

Both Obafemi Martins, who was banged up, and Mauro Rosales were left out of the Sounders team.

Portland had their eleven set and ready to go. The Timbers didn’t just feel like they had a better coach, better stars, a better stadium, a better field, and better fans. They knew it.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the most tense this game ever really was was in the first 30 seconds when DeAndre Yedlin scampered ten yards past where a ball went out of bounds deep in Sounders territory before unleashing a throw-in.

From there, the Timbers sunk their teeth in. Rodney Wallace had two early chances, pushing a clean look from ten yards wide on the slick turf, and being blocked off by Gspurning on a bouncing ball in the box that was the result of Diego Chara deflecting a clearance.

In the 27th minute, after another piece of terrific inter-play, Jack Jewsbury popped a ball up onto the outstretched arm of Djimi Traore. Jewsbury went flying towards the referee with his arms raised, but Hilario Grajeda missed it.

It was up to his assistant linesman, who took one beat, then another, and then another, before running down the touchline towards the byline to signal the penalty.

Will Johnson dispatched it with relish and unleashed another wild celebration.

Portland’s second goal was a thing of beauty – a tic-tac combination through the midfield and on the edge of the area between Jewsbury, Wallace, and then Valeri, who took the ball charging into the area and sent a sliding finish past Gspurning to make it 2-0, and 4-1 on aggregate.

But the best moment in the second half was when Futty Danso, charging into the penalty area on a solo run, headed home a cross from Rodney Wallace – not coincidentally, it was the Timbers’ third goal of the year on a quick free kick, and it was the old college #9 Futty who profited.

But it was Pa Modou Kah who pulled his fellow Gambian out of the celebration, and the two center-backs sprinted down the field towards Donovan Ricketts for a group hug in front of the Timbers Army.

It was pure and unbridled joy. The greatest of great moments.

That was as good as it got in 2014. As good as its ever gotten for the Portland Timbers, really. The Great Hug of Gambia.

Seattle pulled two goals back to give the Timbers a nervy finish, but the game was really never as close as it felt. The Sounders would have needed two more just to tie the score on aggregate, and three more goals to win it outright.

When the final whistle sounded, the Army danced long into the night. It was hardly a competitive game. The fish weren’t the story. The Timbers were.

 

3. Portland Timbers 2, LA Galaxy 1: "The Loudest The Old Stadium Has Ever Been"

July 14th, 2013

Ricketts, Jewsbury (C), Jean-Baptiste, Futty, Harrington, Zemanski, Chara, Nagbe, Valeri, Alhassan, R. Johnson

In the beginning of August, when the LA Galaxy came calling for the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field, there were cracks beginning to show in the Timbers’ armor.

Portland was coming off of a frustrating 1-0 loss in Columbus that saw Pa Kah get sent off in the fifth minute with the Timbers having already conceded. A brave effort wasn’t enough to get a point, and when Crew manager Robert Warzycha said that it’s difficult to play up a man, Mikael Silvestre wondered on Twitter whether the Crew had been playing up a man all year.

Luckily for Portland, LA was also staggering. With Landon Donovan gone on international duty, Carlo Cudicini wearing out his welcome in goal, and Robbie Rogersstruggling to find his groove in midfield, the Galaxy weren’t in any better possession than the Timbers.

Both teams wanted to win. That much was clear from the get-go.

And both teams came to play. That much was clear too.

There was a reason that The Guardian would later call the match, to paraphrase, "the best spectacle in MLS history." Both teams were committed to playing soccer the right way – moving the ball around, at tempo, letting skill players make plays, and, in this case, defending shakily.

In the 17th minute, Marcelo Sarvas, who was unmarked, headed a deflected cross in to make it 1-0. It was the first goal the Timbers had conceded at home in six MLS games, eight in all competitions.

The drama was just starting. After Rogers hacked down Nagbe outside of the box, the Timbers executed a clinical quick free-kick which Nagbe slid in front for Ryan Johnsonto tap home as the Galaxy protested for offsides and the NBC broadcast scrambled to get out of its replay of the foul.

At 1-1, Donovan Ricketts would be called upon multiple times throughout the rest of the game. After Omar Gonzalez hit the post with a header, Ricketts produced an absolutely sublime series of saves to deny a free kick from Juninho and a breakaway opportunity for Gyasi Zardes.

Before the game, Bruce Arena had called Ricketts the best goalkeeper in the history of MLS. It took me back to a US Soccer writer telling me that Ricketts was the best goalkeeper CONCACAF had ever produced.

Portland had their chances too in the second half, including a Nagbe shot that produced a sterling double-save from Cudicini after he blocked Ryan Johnson’s rebound attempt.

Ricketts was again called upon to deny Zardes in the 84th minute, and it appeared as the match was headed for a well-fought draw. Little did we know what was to about to happen.

In the last minute of stoppage time, Portland won a corner. Diego Valeri swung in a beauty, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste spun off of his mark, got his head to the ball, and scored the latest goal in team history.

Portland Timbers 2, LA Galaxy 1.

The roar from the crowd at Jeld-Wen Field was deafening. The stadium shook. It continued to sway all the way until full-time a minute later, when a furious Arena engaged Caleb Porter in a shouting match that saw the two jawing all the way across the field where the match referees were standing.

Jean-Baptiste’s celebration – ripping off his shirt – was nowhere near as good as Freddy Piquionne’s. The substitute striker grabbed the ball, and with his tongue out and Ben Zemanski in tow, kicked it high into the Timbers Army.

It was a Hollywood finish against Hollywood’s team.

The loudest the old stadium has ever been.

 

4. Portland Timbers 3, New York Red Bulls 3: The Porter Era Begins

March 3rd, 2013

Ricketts, Miller, Silvestre, Jean-Baptiste, Harrington, W. Johnson (C), Chara, Alhassan, Nagbe, Valeri, R. Johnson

There were signs before opening day of the 2013 season against the New York Red Bulls at Jeld-Wen Field that nothing was the same for the Portland Timbers.

Flashes of brilliance in preseason, exciting offseason acquisitions, and a clear and poised presence from new head coach Caleb Porter suggested that there might not be a long rebuilding and recovery process from the failed John Spencer era.

There was a great anticipation, not just for another home opener on ESPN, but for the next phase of Portland Timbers soccer.

And it couldn’t have started worse.

Eight minutes into the game, Donovan Ricketts mishandled a back-pass from Mikael Silvestre, and Fabian Espindola pounced to give New York the lead.

But that’s not what you remembered from this game. You remembered the feeling that you got very early on that things were very different. In less than five minutes, the Timbers were level.

A terrific passing move led to Diego Valeri’s circus-act first goal in a Timbers uniform, which was followed up by a celebration almost as intricate as his dance through the New York defense.

Both teams were off to the races for a thrilling game.

In the 23rd minute, Silvestre misplayed a long ball which Espindola again took advantage of for his second goal. It was 3-1 just moments later, as the circus at the back this time resulted in center-back Jamison Olave running free in the goalmouth for a tap-in.

But there was just something about the Timbers – especially their attack – that suggested the game was far from over. There was the purpose and intricacy of play that completely new to Timbers fans. Not coincidentally, the Timbers were fielding their most talented lineup at any level of soccer in club history. They just needed to click into high-gear.

The galvanizing moment, as it turned out, was the double whammy of Andrew Jean-Baptiste being bear-hugged to the turf in the penalty area as his shot was cleared off the line with no penalty call forthcoming.

From there, it was a shooting gallery. Diego Valeri’s scorcher was only parried down in front of the net to Darlington Nagbe – more intense than he’d ever been before as a pro – who cleaned up the rebound to make it 3-2.

The Timbers were pouring players forward in search of the equalizer. It was a zoo. And when the equalizer came, courtesy of a Jose Valencia cross that hit Olave and went in, there was hardly a celebration. Portland wanted a fourth.

In the end, they almost got it with a lung-busting run and cross from Silvestre, who after his only bad half as a Timber was already rehabilitating his image, that Ryan Johnson took on a bicycle kick that went just wide.

It finished 3-3, but it really just went down as a hell of a game.

There was giddiness in the potency and skill of the Timbers’ attack and a confidence that great things were just around the corner.

It was soccer on a level we’d never seen before. On that night, the Portland Timbers started playing a new game.

 

5. Portland Timbers 4, Chicago Fire 2: Soccer City, USA

April 14th, 2011

Gleeson, Purdy, Brunner, Futty, Wallace, Marcelin, Jewsbury (C), Hall, Alhassan, Perlaza, Cooper

Although the Portland Timbers played their first MLS game in Commerce City, Colorado – in an all-green strip, no less – and proceeded to lose to Toronto and then draw New England on the east coast, their MLS journey really started when the Timbers hosted their first ever game in April 2011 against the Chicago Fire.

It was Soccer City, USA’s coming out party, and the grand unveiling had everything. The revamped PGE Park, renamed Jeld-Wen Field, sparkled – that sleek new west side of the stadium jiving with the familiar, cramped old concourses that harkened all the way to the first days of Civic Stadium.

It was raining – pouring, actually – and the Timbers Army rocked the stadium with their entrance 107 minutes before kickoff and a spirited a cappella national anthem. There wasn’t a party in Portland so much as a jungle, and as the US Soccer public was just taking in the spectacle for the first time, it was intoxicating.

There was only one question: Would the team provide the game the scene deserved? The Timbers were having a rough go of it. They’d gotten a measly one point from three games and scored only two goals.

The defense was shaky. Diego Chara hadn’t arrived yet, and the team was having difficulty keeping possession and stringing together passes. Troy Perkins was still out, and third-string goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was in the net for the biggest game in franchise history. It didn’t look promising.

But from the opening whistle, the Timbers were unrecognizable. Incisive, eager, and threatening, they looked like they could score every time they came down the field.

And after just ten minutes, Kenny Cooper headed home a Jack Jewsbury corner – but it was inexplicably ruled out for a phantom offense. Instead, the opener would come in the 29th minute as Jorge Perlaza bounded onto a Kalif Alhassan pass, cut back in the area with the help of the slick surface, and fired home the first goal in the history of the new stadium.

It would get better ten minutes later, when a partially cleared free-kick fell to Rodney Wallace who laced in a volley from twenty yards to make it 2-0. By the time Sean Johnson spilled a cross allowing Perlaza to tap in his second, it was a Portland coronation.

Things got serious quickly though, when an effervescent Marco Pappa pulled the game back to 3-2 with a superb effort after an own goal from Eric Brunner made it 3-1. But the game was sealed shut when Portland scrambled home their fourth goal in front of the Timbers Army on an almighty goalmouth scramble led by Futty Danso.

John Spencer was giddy. His post-game press conference was a thing of beauty. Gavin Wilkinson, unfortunately enough, had to issue an apology after being caught on national television screaming at the officials from behind the advertising boards.

All in all, it was a perfect night – and the best thing was the knowledge that there’d be many more nights like it to follow.

 

6. Portland Timbers 2, Seattle Sounders 1: Spencer’s Last Stand

June 24th, 2012

Perkins, Jewsbury (C), Horst, Futty, Smith, Chara, Alhassan, Nagbe, Songo’o, Fucito, Boyd

John Spencer must have known he was living on borrowed time when the Seattle Sounders came calling on a beautiful June day in Portland with England losing on penalties to Italy in Euro 2012.

The Timbers’ season had already turned sour, with more and more mediocre players being signed and thrown into the mix with no direction or long-term plan. With Spencer, it was all an emotional appeal – a fiery want, a need to win.

And was endearing, but not destined to be successful very often. But in rivalry games like this one, that fire that Spencer instilled made for a hell of a show.

After the dust cleared, six yellow cards and two red ones had been handed out, the Timbers had gotten two of their best ever goal celebrations, and, at last, their first ever win over the Sounders. It was to be Spencer’s final hurrah.

Portland came out with their hair on fire after the unveiling of the Clive Charles tifo that stands as the most impressive in MLS history – although there were hearts in mouths everywhere around the stadium when the right side of the tifo snagged and ripped while being rigged up.

Just minutes into the game, David Horst sent an open header screaming off the crossbar. But it didn’t take long for Portland to take the lead, with Kris Boyd tapping in a Steven Smith cross and pointing and laughing at the Seattle fans in the away end.

Horst made amends – this time directing his header into the turf and past Seattle, now Portland, goalkeeper Andrew Weber – to make it 2-0 in the 25th minute.

Tempers flared in the second half, as Kalif Alhassan – having himself a vintage performance – was crocked and forced to come off with injuries.

The loss of Alhassan came at a crucial time, as Seattle was pulling themselves back into the game. Osvaldo Alonso had forced consecutive saves out of Troy Perkins, but a fantastic solo effort by Eddie Johnson made it 2-1 with 35 minutes to go.

But as Seattle struggled to find the equalizer, their frustrations – stop me if this sounds familiar, apparently became impossible to contain.

Freddy Montero’s push of David Horst – who went down much easier and with much less contact that Will Johnson did when Alonso elbowed him in the throat two years later – sparked a massive brawl in the 90th minute.

Boyd stuck a finger in Montero’s face, Futty and Eddie Johnson shared a shoving match, and when the dust settled, Montero was sent off, as was Portland substitute Lovel Palmer.

After the resulting eight minutes of stoppage time, Portland had their victory, which Futty celebrated lying on the turf pumping his fists. It was a total Spencer win – as it turned out, his last of consequence.

 

7. Portland Timbers 2, Seattle Sounders 1: Welcome To Your Nightmare

November 2nd, 2013

Ricketts, Jewsbury, Futty, Kah, Harrington, Chara, W. Johnson (C), Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe, R. Johnson

There was something slightly surreal about this game for the Portland Timbers, from the Seahawks lines that covered CenturyLink Field’s turf, to that confidence feigned by the Emerald City Supporters when their pre-match tifo read, "Welcome To Your Nightmare."

It should have, "Welcome To Our Nightmare," because the Sounders were in the midst of their worst ever season, and it was about to get a whole lot more ugly over the 180 minutes of soccer that were about to unfurl in front of them.

Until this night in November 2013, Portland had never won in MLS in Seattle, let alone had a lead. That all would change.

Caleb Porter opted to place his faith in Ryan Johnson up top, instead of young-gun Jose Valenica, the barely-fit or serviceable Maxi Urruti, or Frederic Piquionne.

Seattle, meanwhile, was without starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who had gotten himself sent off in the team’s wild card win over Seattle for bounding out of his penalty area and catching a long-ball.

In the 15th minute, Diego Chara sprayed a ball wide for Jack Jewsbury, who took a touch, and sent a perfect cross towards Ryan Johnson streaking in at the near post.

Johnson’s flicked header would have been a save for most goalkeepers, but Seattle back-up Marcus Hahnemann was hopelessly out of position, and it was 1-0.

Portland was mostly content to play on the break and rely on their defense, and while Seattle had a couple of chances through long Clint Dempsey free-kicks, they were mostly held in check.

The Timbers pounced again in the 65th minute, when some neat work from substitute Kalif Alhassan on the wing freed Darlington Nagbe in the middle to fire past Hahnemann and make it 2-0.

In fact, the game would have been perfect had it ended one minute earlier than it did. Because at the edge of stoppage time, Osvaldo Alonso finally fired home the Sounders’ goal.

You could feel it coming – Ricketts was forced into a world-class save on a Dempsey header just minutes before, and Seattle was playing with a desperate franticness.

It finished 2-1, and there was no way to know that that goal would be nothing more than academic after the Timbers pasted the Sounders in the second leg five days later at Jeld-Wen Field.

Then, it hurt. It hurt that it was Alonso who scored it. That it came off a long throw-in didn’t help.

Still, the achievement couldn’t be dimmed. The Timbers had come to Seattle in the club’s first ever MLS playoff game, outplayed the home team, and won.

It more than set up the euphoria that was to follow on November 7th.

 

8. Portland Timbers 3, LA Galaxy 0: Total Domination

August 3rd, 2011

Perkins (C), Chabala, Brunner, Horst, Palmer, Chara, Marcelin, Nagbe, Zizzo, Perlaza, Cooper

As the calendar turned to August 2011, the shine that had coated the Timbers’ expansion season was wearing mighty thin.

After their magical unbeaten home run to start the season had kept the team afloat in the playoff race and secured plenty of goodwill amongst its burgeoning fan-base, the summer had put a major dent in the feel-good story.

Portland hadn’t won a home match since May, in addition to their ever present road struggles, and just three days before the midweek match against the Galaxy had blown a two-goal lead in the last minutes against laughing-stock Toronto FC.

Meanwhile, LA were riding a league-record fourteen game unbeaten streak with the likes of David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and for the first time in Timbers MLS history, there was real, city-wide pessimism surrounding the home team.

To add the woe, there were injury problems. Talisman Jack Jewsbury was out, as was Eddie Johnson, an English forward who had just recently won a starting place and scored against TFC the previous weekend.

Johnson, as turned out, had suffered what would end up being a career-ending concussion in the pregame warm-up, and only that gave Kenny Cooper a ticket out of the doghouse and back onto the field.

So it shocked everyone when the Timbers stepped out onto the field, and stepped on the Galaxy’s throats.

Mike Chabala opened the scoring with a laser from the top of the box and Jorge Perlaza two after sealing off AJ DeLaGarza and rifling past Josh Saunders. At halftime, the Timbers had outshot LA 9-0.

It only got better. Eric Brunner made it 3-0 off a corner kick to put the icing on the scoring, while Chabala, clearly enjoying the Timbers Army, karate-chopped his already cracked log at full-time.

The Timbers left the Galaxy admiring their work-rate and desire. It was a proud moment – LA would go on to win MLS Cup, but they’d come to Portland and been absolutely destroyed by the rag-tag Timbers.

Soccer wise, it was the best 90 minutes of the inaugural season.

 

9. Portland Timbers 3, Philadelphia Union 1: What Might Have Been

March 12th, 2012

Perkins, Palmer, Brunner, Jean-Baptiste, Wallace, Jewsbury (C), Chara, Alexander, Alhassan, Perlaza, Boyd

Before the 2012 Portland Timbers season went off the rails and we were presented with a lot of Kosuke Kimura and #GWOut movement, there was great hope for the Timbers’ sophomore season.

The thinking was logical, if a tad naïve. The Timbers team that missed the playoffs by two points in their first year would add Kris Boyd, take advantage of their experience, and make the team’s first playoff run.

Boyd, of course, was supposed to be a star. And for one night, he was.

In a monsoon, in front of an ESPN audience, the Timbers dominated the first fifty minutes, but went behind when a 35 yard free kick hit Andrew Jean-Baptiste and skipped past Troy Perkins.

It was then that the Timbers kicked it into high gear. Jean-Baptiste nodded a Jack Jewsbury free kick through the dive of Union goalkeeper Zach McMath to make it 1-1.

Ten minutes later, Kalif Alhassan hit Boyd for a ten-yard flick on header that was perfection. Not only was it the essence of what John Spencer wanted Portland to accomplish in his one and a half years here, but it also might have been the finest piece of center forward play in team history.

Alhassan, who was the best player on the field, chipped McMath with a cross to make it a 3-1 final. It was a jazz-hands symphony from Kalif, one of those games when the Ghanaian just had a gleam in his eye and a bounce in his step that made him unplayable.

Spencer was pumping his fists, Boyd was all he’d been billed as, and anything was possible. The Timbers put on a show that night. Unfortunately it was to be the most false of dawns.

 

10. Portland Timbers 1, San Jose Earthquakes 0: "If There’s A Fight…"

April 14th, 2013

Ricketts, Jewsbury, Silvestre, Futty, Harrington, Chara, W. Johnson (C), Wallace, Nagbe, Alhassan, R. Johnson

The Portland Timbers were just getting used to winning. Caleb Porter’s first victory as a professional head coach had come the weekend before against the Houston Dynamo, and as the Portland Timbers’ defense was finding its footing, the team’s 2013 season was beginning to take off.

San Jose, at the time, was an especially moody bunch of a meagerly talented players who aggravated their opposition to self-destruction and got the most out of their meager talents.

They liked to play chippy, tight, closely contested games, and within minutes of kickoff against the Portland Timbers on this cool April night, it was clear that one goal would enough. It was also clear that things might get ugly.

The first half saw Futty Danso injure Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon savage Diego Chara who completed ten-barrel roles and get Gordon booked, and few chances fall to either team.

Every inch of space was being contested. There was a certain claustrophobia about the game, an uncomfortable air filling the stadium.

In the 68th minute, Silvestre, with blood pouring out of a gash on the side of his face, went charging at Gordon claiming an elbow.

Silvestre, who endeared fans in his short time in Portland with a general joie de vivre and easy air, was more incensed than injured, in an enraged disbelief that Gordon had elbowed him in the face.

What Silvestre, and the stadium that had seen events unfold on the scoreboard didn’t know, was that the elbow was completely unintentional.

It didn’t matter. Gordon was shown his second yellow. Then, on his way out Gordon sent a homophobic slur at Will Johnson. San Jose were down to ten.

Like that mattered. San Jose had sunk their teeth in, and it was going to take a moment of magic to win the game.

That’s what Portland was thinking when Will Johnson stood over a free-kick, twenty-five yards from goal in the middle of the field in the 77th minute.

His take was perfection. Jon Busch had no chance. The Timbers’ captain went berserk, sliding into the advertising boards and screaming at the Army.

The Earthquakes would get one chance to level the match – a free header that Chris Wondolowski hit straight at Donovan Ricketts.

It was the best game in an increasingly and then suddenly intense rivalry between the Timbers and Earthquakes.

The 1-0 propelled Portland up the standings, and may just have helped trigger the demise of San Jose, but it set up a theme for the 2013 season that Caleb Porter would sum up after beating Seattle 1-0 at home in a similarly tight match at the end of the year.

"If there’s a fight, we’re up for a fight. There’s no problem with that. We can out-football teams, but we can also out-fight teams. They made it a fight, and that was no problem for us."

End Of an Era: Ricketts To OCSC In Expansion Draft

Ricketts was selected first overall in Wednesday's MLS Expansion Draft

Ricketts was selected first overall in Wednesday's MLS Expansion Draft

It is the end of an era in Portland Timbers history; The Donovan Ricketts era. Although the news is bittersweet for Timbers supporters, it should not be too much of a surprise. This seemed inevitable with the announced signing of Ghanaian goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey on Tuesday. 

Ricketts was selected as the first overall pick by expansion club Orlando City SC in Wednesday's MLS expansion draft. He was the only Timber selected in the draft. Ricketts leaves the Timbers after two and a half seasons, and just one season removed from winning MLS Goalkeeper of the year honors in 2013.

In his time here he went from a player that many were skeptical about to a fan favorite, who without a doubt is responsible for much of the success that the team enjoyed during the 2013 season. He was not as effective in 2014, but still covered for a battered defense that did not support him as well as he needed. 

Now, in the waning years of his career he starts a new chapter in yet another MLS expansion city. We wish him the best in Orlando, and look forward to every occasion he finds himself in Portland. 

Timbers’ 21 Moves Point Towards The Future

A trade for Nat Borchers was one of many moves the Timbers made yesterday. 

A trade for Nat Borchers was one of many moves the Timbers made yesterday. 

Just over a year ago, the Portland Timbers hit their MLS apex. They vanquished the Seattle Sounders at Jeld-Wen Field, and added a playoff victory over their fiercest rival to a haul from a season that saw the club win the Western Conference and qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League.

It seems like a lot longer than twelve months ago now.

After the Timbers announced moves on a grand total of 21 players on a frantic half-day – quintessential MLS – trade-window less than 24 hours after MLS Cup kicked off, the excitement is palpable. So is the carnage.

Donovan Ricketts, replaced. Michael Harrington, cast aside. Pa Modou Kah, jettisoned. Kalif Alhassan, released. The Ryan Johnsons and Freddy Piquionnes are long gone, as are the David Horsts and the Andrew Jean-Baptistes and the currently unemployed Futty Danso.

In one year, the Timbers have turned over their entire backline – including their goalkeeper. Nearly the team’s entire bench from the season just completed has been excised.

It’s not a bad thing. The Timbers are better today than they were yesterday. They’re much better today than they were this summer.

Nat Borchers is a slam-dunk signing. Adam Kwarasey could be the #1 until 2020. Portland’s other two new players – Brazilian defender Jeandersen Salvador Pereira and especially Columbian winger Dairon Asprilla – have potential.

The Timbers’ new direction makes sense.

Caleb Porter has consistently and pointedly expressed his admiration for those few teams in MLS that have the same look every year – the clubs that don’t have major turnover in their playing or coaching staff.

LA Galaxy, the team that just won their third championship in four years, are the poster-child for that blueprint.

So what Porter and Gavin Wilkinson have set in motion today is a plan to have the same group in place for the foreseeable future – making playoff runs and establishing the Timbers brand.

Caleb doesn’t like tinkering. He wants to write the same eleven names on the team-sheet every week.

So this is what the Timbers have built for year three – the year of judgment in any coaching reign. Kwarasey, Powell, Borchers, Ridgewell, Villafaña, Johnson, Chara, Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe, Adi.

Of course there will be bumps along the way. Two ACL injuries, for starters. But that’s the Timbers’ plan.

Portland’s 2013 team wasn’t lucky – that’d be undercutting their considerable talent and achievements. But they did just piece things together, week-to-week, month-to-month. That team had a lot of moxie, but what the Timbers are trying to build is a powerhouse.

One look at five of the six the players who the Timbers have invested in today – Powell, Villafaña, Asprilla, Jeandersen, and Kwarasey – will tell you something about the long-term investment. Kwarasey is practically elderly in that group, and he’s only 26.

And when you consider that Kwarasey replaces Ricketts for no other reason than that Ricketts is 37, you can see that Porter isn’t just putting together a team that will be competitive this year – he’s putting together a team that will still be competitive in five years.

Nat Borchers is the only player the Timbers have brought in is over 30, and he figures to be the only opening day starter over 30 as well, but it’s his signing that was more than any other a no-brainer.

Borchers is a proven MLS center-back who has been a vital cog for one of those teams in the model of stability – Real Salt Lake – that Porter wants the Timbers to emulate.

The synergy works here too – and by that I’m not just referring to Borchers’ beard, although Timber Joey might be looking over his shoulder a little more this season.

Aurelien Colin was available as the Timbers looked for a proven center-back partner for Liam Ridgewell, but Colin is more expensive and more volatile than Borchers, who is as good a soldier as he is an experienced and effective one.

His acquisition obviously has parallels the Will Johnson pickup in 2012. Both were picked off from RSL for allocation money because of a roster squeeze in Utah. Borchers talked to the skipper, and picked Portland over two other clubs who wanted his services.

Borchers is the kind of center-back we’ve wanted in Portland for four years. He’s a keeper.

So is Kwarasey, and although it’s a little bit troubling that Clint Dempsey scored on him only 30 seconds into his first and only World Cup game, his looks a shrewd signing.

It’s extremely hard on Donovan Ricketts – whose fate is yet to be determined – but the Timbers get Kwarasey in his prime.

Thorns Ship Brooks To WNY, For Zerboni & Williamson

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If there was one huge issue for the Thorns in 2014 it was that the defense, after shipping Williamson to WNY for the rights to Boquete, lost an important piece to the puzzle. All year long coach Riley had to play with various combinations and position changes to try and get the best out of what was, at best, a make shift back line. Today the Thorns addressed that defensive issue in a big way, bringing Williamson back to Portland, along with Zerboni only having to give up Amber Brooks. My initial reaction is that this was a great move for Portland, Brooks was never really able to stand out in what was a crowded - and highly talented - midfield, and the defensive issues mentioned above necessitated the move to bring back some defensive experience. It would have been nice to keep Brooks (Who I feel has great potential in this league), but this move was a no brainer in my opinion. Full press release and details below...

Official Press Release

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Thorns FC have acquired the rights to defender Kat Williamson and midfielder McCall Zerboni from the Western New York Flash in exchange for midfielder Amber Brooks, it was announced today.

Williamson, 25, appeared in 21 matches (20 starts) during the 2014 regular season for the Western New York Flash. Williamson was traded to the Flash on April 5 as part of a move that granted Portland the right to midfielder Vero Boquete. The eighth overall pick by Portland in the first round of the 2013 National Women’s Soccer League College (NWSL) Draft from the University of Florida, Williamson made her professional debut with Thorns FC in 2013 and ranked second on the team in minutes (1,944) during her rookie campaign. A native of McKinney, Texas, Williamson was one of three players to start all 24 matches during the 2013 season as she helped guide Portland to the 2013 NWSL Championship.

“Kat returning home to Portland will give us depth, leadership and quality in the back,” Thorns FC head coach Paul Riley said. “She has championship experience and it's brilliant to have her back.

Zerboni, 27, played three professional seasons with the Western New York Flash in both the NWSL and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), helping guide the Flash to the 2011 WPS title and the championship match of the 2013 NWSL Playoffs. In two NWSL seasons with Western New York, Zerboni appeared in 46 matches, recording four goals and two assists. During the 2014 season, Zerboni was one of nine players in the NWSL to appear in all 24 regular-season matches (23 starts) and ranked seventh in the league in minutes played (2,036), while recording three goals and two assists.

“McCall has been on my radar for a long time,” Riley said. “She has a great engine, an experienced mind and tremendous competitive appetite. Both are proven starters in this league and I look forward to working with them.”

A former United States youth international, Zerboni was the 47th overall pick in the 2009 WPS Draft by the Los Angeles Sol, recording one goal and one assist in 10 appearances (four starts). Zerboni was selected in the 2009 WPS Expansion Draft by the Atlanta Beat and made 20 appearances for the club before signing with the Flash for the 2011 season.

“It was a very difficult decision to trade Amber, but we felt we needed to improve our numbers of players available during the season and getting two top players certainly helps us during a World Cup year,” Riley added. “Amber was a massive plus for us last season and will certainly be missed. We wish her all the best with her new team.”

Brooks, 23, appeared in 20 regular-season matches (19 starts) for Thorns FC in 2014, recording a goal and two assists. She made her debut for Portland on April 12 in a 1-0 win on the road against the Houston Dash, starting and playing all 90 minutes.

 

Kat Williamson Position: Defender Height: 5-6 Born: Aug. 1, 1989 in McKinney, Texas Hometown: McKinney, Texas Last Club: Western New York Flash College: Univ. of Florida Citizenship: United States

McCall Zerboni Position: Midfielder Height: 5-4 Born: Dec. 13, 1986 in Camarillo, Calif. Hometown: Camarillo, Calif. Last Club: Western New York Flash College: UCLA Citizenship: United States

Portland Timbers 2014 Player Grades

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It's fair to say that the Portland Timbers have had two successful MLS seasons, and two unsuccessful MLS seasons. The first year I did player grades for the Timbers after the season was 2012 - the first unsuccessful season, and a campaign so dire that I simply split the players up into two categories: Keep 'em, and get rid of 'em. Obviously this year, the second failed Timbers MLS season, doesn't require such drastic measures. Portland ended up missing the playoffs by a single point, while scoring the fourth most goals in the league. They've got good players, a good manager, and although they underachieved this year, there's no need to panic.

Without further ado, here are the 2014 Timbers player grades.

Donovan Ricketts: A-

At some point when the Timbers' defense was a flaming trash heap in the spring and early summer, it became fashionable to start talking about Donovan Ricketts' downfall. Ricketts took about ten games to fully warm up - as he'll tell you, he's old - but Ricketts was mostly his old self this season. Difference was, his saves weren't saving three points, they were usually contributing in an effort to get one.

Ricketts is still a superb shot-stopper. He doesn't do anything else particularly well, but his saves kept the Timbers around in games all year. The Jamaican is still a top-tear MLS goalkeeper, and the Timbers would be hard pressed to find anyone better to wear #1.

Best game: @ Colorado (2). Worst game: @ Real Salt Lake (1).

Jake Gleeson: A

Gleeson - finally getting a chance to play every day with Sacramento FC - established himself as a top goalkeeper in USL and reminded everyone of the promise he carried when he burst onto the scene in 2011.

Gleeson, who supplanted Andrew Weber as the backup 'keeper when he returned to Portland after the USL championship, should be with the big club from now on.

Best/worst game: N/A

Andrew Weber: C-

When Donovan Ricketts was red-carded against Colorado and Weber filled in for him at the beginning of the year, he did a nice job. He saved a penalty at Dicks' Sporting Goods Park, and despite conceding four goals, made some big plays against the Sounders.

But as the rust set in and the sample size increased, Weber was exposed in the CONCACAF Champions League. His blunder against Olimpia ended up costing the Timbers a chance to move on in the competition, and probably cost Weber his job.

Best game: vs. Seattle (1). Worst game: vs. Olimpia

Alvas Powell: B

It's hard to grade Alvas Powell's season: In the first half, he was a joke - out of control and not ready to play at an MLS level mentally or physically. When Powell got sent off for what was quite possibly the most shocking challenge ever seen from an MLS Timbers player against Columbus and then went on loan to Sacramento FC, it was doubtful that Powell would ever make it back to Portland.

But somehow, Powell figured things out and made it back. When given another chance with the Timbers, he played well enough on defense to let his offense shine through - and if the last game in Dallas is any indicator, the defense might be coming around too. Powell ended the year with the club's Young Player of the Year award, and huge expectations for 2015. Not bad for the youngster.

Best game: @ FC Dallas (2). Worst game: vs. Columbus

Liam Ridgewell: B

It's pretty simple: Liam Ridgewell is a good player who was and will continue to be valuable for Portland and one of the first names on the team-sheet each week. He is, however, way overpaid for someone in his position and at his talent level, and not a truly great defender.

Ridgewell is a top-level player when the game is in front of him - he's a good organizer, comfortable with the ball on his feet, and physically adept. But Ridgewell has trouble with speed and tracking runs, and his awareness in the box isn't great. His personality - downright bubbly, for a Brit - helped sell him to Caleb Porter and the Timbers in July, and it's helped sell him to fans and his teammates. Ridgewell is here to stay. The question is if he'll ever be able to pay off the investment the Timbers made in him.

Best game: vs. Chivas USA (2). Worst game: @ Olimpia

Pa Moudu Kah: C-

Kah just had a shocker of a year all around. He hurt himself in warmups. He hurt himself celebrating a Diego Chara goal against Seattle. He hurt himself just minutes into the first game of the season. He gave Darlington Nagbe one of the most famous kisses in team history. Kah would be staggeringly bad - his unique mix of idiocy and misplaced aggression - and then utterly competent. Usually in consecutive games.

It's anyone's guess whether Kah will be back in 2015. His play hasn't warranted a return, but his gregarious nature would make it hard to see him go. One thing is for sure. This Timbers team will be a lot less fun when Kah isn't around.

Best game: vs. Vancouver (2). Worst game: vs. Vancouver (1)

Jorge Villafaña: B+

What's interesting about Jorge Villafana is how he got his start with the Timbers. After not making the bench for almost the first two months of the season, Villafana was included in the 18 and then called upon after Powell's red card against Columbus. From there, he was a first-choice player - and the best and most effective crosser on the team.

He's not a great defender, but Villafana's value as an attacking wing player to the Timbers cannot be overstated. He's established himself as an MLS regular - a long way from the tryout show with which he started his career.

Best game: @ LA (1). Worst game: vs. Vancouver (1)

Norberto Paparatto: D+

I'll cut Paparatto some slack: It's hard to adjust to a new team, a new continent and a new language in a month or two. But few players have ever done less to endear themselves to a fan-base than Paparatto did this year in Portland. He didn't do interviews, didn't score a big goal, didn't make a big tackle, didn't interact with the community, and never really got going.

His play improved markedly over the last few months of the season once he got another run in the team, but on the wrong side of 30, getting slower, and as a really poor distributer, it's hard to see a longterm future for the Argentine in Portland.

Best game: vs. Chivas USA (2). Worst game: @ FC Dallas (1)

Michael Harrington: C

Harrington didn't have an especially bad year, but he was exposed for what he is: A very average, very limited MLS fullback. Harrington's lack of speed and big-play ability in attack saw Caleb Porter searching for a replacement as Harrington was consistently burned against better offensive players.

Harrington can be a starter in MLS, but since the Timbers' found a way of including their fullbacks in the offense in late summer, it has looked more and more like Harrington's days in Portland could be numbered. He'll be someone to watch in the offseason, as he most likely won't be protected in the expansion draft and could be a nice piece for a new team.

Best game: vs. Philadelphia. Worst game: vs. Seattle (2)

Jack Jewsbury: B-

Jewsbury, much like Harrington, played his game when he was given the opportunity to this year. We know what Jewsbury's strengths and weaknesses are, and so does the rest of MLS: He's very good on the ball for a full-back, can read the game, and is an average 1v1 defender at best with no speed.

The emergence of Villafana took Jewsbury out of the lineup, and it will be tough for him to get back in. Still, the old captain is an important locker room presence and a good role player who is part of the fabric of the club. He should stick around.

Best game: vs. Columbus. Worst game: vs. Vancouver (1)

Danny O'Rourke: C

Danny O'Rourke was brought on as a nice depth piece, and it's really Caleb Porter's fault for trying to get too much out of his player. Not only is O'Rourke not a starter in this league, he's not a center-back at all, and when paired next to someone like Raushawn McKenzie, he'll struggle.

O'Rourke did as well as could reasonably be expected for someone taken off the scrap heap in the middle of the year. As a cheap option, he could be back in 2015.

Best game: vs. Dallas (1). Worst game: Seattle (2)

Raushawn McKenzie: D-

He seems like a good guy, Raushawn McKenzie, but he's not even remotely close to being a serviceable MLS player. It wasn't just his haircut that made you close your eyes when he was in the lineup.

McKenzie had a couple of solid games, but mostly struggled mightily in his shockingly long time in the team before getting yanked at halftime of the home game against Dallas on the eve of the World Cup.

Best game: @ Real Salt Lake (2). Worst game: vs. Dallas

Diego Chara: A

Chara's best year ever? Quite possibly. Sometimes Chara's play can be indistinguishable from game to game - he runs a ton, breaks up attack after attack with tackles and often fouls, and is an effective passer and attacking runner out of midfield. He does a lot to help the Timbers win each and every week, but it's hard to tell sometimes when Chara is having a great game and when he is having an average game.

But when Will Johnson went down in Toronto, it became a lot easier to see how vital Chara is. He is simply everywhere, at all times. Caleb Porter's biggest mistake in the loss to Olimpia was not playing Chara - the Timbers looked naked without him. Against RSL in the final home game of the year, Chara played one of the most statistically successful games for a holding midfielder in MLS history. Chara is one of the Timbers' best and most important players, and still one of the most underrated players in the league.

Best game: vs. Seattle (1). Worst game: vs. Columbus

Will Johnson: C

It was always going to be impossible for Will Johnson to match his 2013 production. Johnson is just never going to be a double-digit goal and attacking lynchpin ever again. And that's fine, since goalscoring wasn't what Johnson was brought to Portland and made captain to do anyway.

The problem this year wasn't so much Johnson's decreased production, it was more his erratic play. Far too often Johnson would be caught upfield neglecting his defensive duties, and his lack of understanding with Chara was bizarre considering the season those two had last year. Johnson was one of the main reasons Portland played so recklessly until the fall, and by the end of the season, his frequent tantrums were just childish and embarrassing. When Will gets back on the field next year, he needs to get back to the basics of what made him such a valuable player in the first place.

Best game: vs. Columbus. Worst game: vs. San Jose (1)

Ben Zemanski: A-

When Will Johnson went down, it was telling that Caleb Porter never even considered any other option - Jack Jewsbury, Gaston Fernandez, a second striker, anything - besides starting Ben Zemanski. What Zemanski had, then, was a five-match audition to show that he could be an MLS starter.

Zemanski did very well. Though he's limited, Zemanski a player who doesn't try to be anything he's not - he plays simple, he covers ground defensively, and he doesn't get sucked out of position. Discipline and work-rate, possibly the two most important attributes for a player with his skill-set, are there for Big Ben. The Timbers will certainly try to keep Zemanski in the offseason, but there's a lingering line of thought that says some team may give him a shot to be an everyday player.

Best game: vs. San Jose (2). Worst game: vs. Seattle (1)

Diego Valeri: A

There was a point in the beginning of the year when a few people in Portland were running with the narrative that Valeri was off his game. It was mostly because, though he was pouring in assists, the Argentine wasn't scoring. That and people were noticing how many through-balls and lobs and passes Valeri was attempting that weren't working.

Well, we all know what happened. The goalscoring came in a flurry, and Valeri's pension for taking risks, for trying things, started to pay off in a huge way. Without Valeri, the Timbers go from the fourth-best offense in the league to one of the worst offenses in the league, and in a year that saw goalscoring production from the midfield drop dramatically, Valeri was a saving grace. It doesn't hurt that he's just about the most likable star we've ever seen in Portland, and his All-Star game winning 40-yard cross to Landon Donovan should go down as one of the greatest moments in Providence Park history.

Best game: vs. San Jose (1). Worst game: vs. Chicago

Darlington Nagbe: B-

You can spin it any which way, but there's no denying that Darlington Nagbe's 2014 season was a major disappointment. At the beginning of the year, Nagbe was being talked about as a fringe MVP candidate with a US National Team future. At the end of the year, he was finally celebrating his first goal.

It wasn't that Nagbe played terribly - he had a career high in assists, and was a major contributor week after week for the Timbers especially with his ability to shuttle and relieve pressure, but someone with Nagbe's talent level has to score goals to play to his full potential. Too often Nagbe got into great positions and came up empty. This year was a setback - even if there was an element of lucklessness to Nagbe's scoreless streak - because scoreless streaks like that don't happen to the truly elite players for 33 games. He'll try to make that jump in 2015. The future is still very bright.

Best game: @ Vancouver. Worst game: vs. Real Salt Lake.

Rodney Wallace: A-

By the end of March, it was obvious how much the Timbers missed Rodney Wallace. They missed his spacing, his directness, his production, and the balance he provided that was so obviously missing as the offense sputtered over the first two months of the season. By late April, Steve Zakuani was tasked with being Wallace, but he obviously wasn't.

Getting the Costa Rican back from his ACL tear in June - along with the addition of Fanendo Adi - was the greatest reason that Portland's offense had a second-half renaissance. Wallace continues to be Caleb Porter's greatest credit - transforming from ne'er-do-well fullback to invaluable winger.

Best game: @ San Jose. Worst game: vs. Seattle (2)

Steve Zakuani: D

It was abundantly clear as time went on this season, to everyone, Steve Zakuani, his teammates, his coaches, Timbers supporters, the rest of MLS, everyone, that the former #1 draft pick and rising star was not and would never be the same player he once was. Caleb Porter, who has watched the rise of Zakuani from the bench at Akron, gave his former college star every chance in the world to be successful.

He started games he shouldn't have in the hope that maybe reps were what Zakuani needed to recover the touch, the pace, and the engine that had been missing since his double leg break in Commerce City, Colorado more than three years ago. Zakuani's decision to retire was easily foreseeable. He is putting himself out of the constant physical pain he has endured, and his own misery of being a shell of the player he once was.

Best game: @ New York. Worst game: @ Seattle.

Kalif Alhassan: F

I think I'm in a different place than many on Kalif Alhassan. I genuinely and totally want this player to succeed. Not only because he is the last remaining USL Timber with the club, but because we've all seen how good he can be. Kalif is a big-game player. His best moments - and there have been some breathtaking moments - have come when the lights have shone brightest.

But you can feel Alhassan's career slipping away. Alhassan's inconsistency - and some say his focus and work-rate - are crippling. He went backwards this year, not getting minutes, starting a career low five games, and becoming disillusioned and frustrated by the end of the season. Alhassan needs a fresh start. That might mean a new team in spades, but it mostly means that he needs to assess his career and ask himself whether he wants to continue to play in MLS and ever get anywhere in his career.

Best game: vs. Seattle (1). Worst game: vs. Chivas USA

Gaston Fernandez: B

Make no mistake: Gaston Fernandez is a talented and valuable player. He's not, however, a starter or star for the Portland Timbers, and when he was made the team's marquee signing from Argentina in the offseason, that's what he was billed as. Part of that dichotomy is not Fernandez's fault - he's a withdrawn striker or #10, and the Timbers already have someone at that position: Diego Valeri.

When Fernandez was started alongside Valeri at the beginning of the season, neither player had any space, which is why Fernandez got dropped from the team. La Gata is a luxury player - talented, but not consistently game-changing, doesn't play any defense, and doesn't affect the game physically. Considering all of that, Fernandez had a great year. He scored goals off the bench, made some big plays, and rescued his fair share of points. With Valeri's ACL injury, Fernandez will most likely play a big role at the beginning of next season.

Best game: vs. DC United. Worst game: vs. Seattle (2)

Fanendo Adi: B+

It's fairly well-known around MLS circles that the Timbers were targeting a bigger name striker than Fanendo Adi when they signed the Nigerian on a short-team loan deal from Copenhagen in May. But Adi immediately came in and made an impact. His first Timbers touch set up a game-tying goal in a wild 3-3 draw with Columbus, and he proceeded to win a full-team deal and a DP contract.

Adi's mere presence was a sort of catharsis - Portland had been going with a forward platoon of Fernandez and Maxi Urruti - but Adi's play at times this year was perfection from a mostly back-to-goal #9. He worked hard all year, and came up with some massive performances. Equally impressive was Adi's quick start in a league that is difficult to come into midseason. He's set to become the first starting forward to last more than one season in Portland.

Best game: vs. Vancouver (2). Worst game: vs. Sporting Kansas City

Maxi Urruti: B

It's hard to argue with Urruti's terrific goal output this year, especially considering he didn't score for almost the first two months of the season. Urruti came into the season as the Timbers' main striker and was so abominably bad that it often felt like the Timbers were playing with ten men. But things got better over the course of the year, because Urruti is better coming off the bench anyway.

As a starter, Urruti usually has an anemic influence on the game besides his constant whining. But the more tired defenders are, the easier it is for Urruti to find space, which is why he's good late in games - and his finishing somehow became clinical over the summer. He's terrific trade bait - and that's how he should be used, if possible - but the Timbers could do worse than starting with Adi and finishing with Urruti again next year.

Best game: @ New York. Worst game: vs. Seattle (2)

Other notable players who suited up for the first team this year include Michael Nanchoff and Taylor Peay, both of whom made nice strides and should be expected to be around next year. And it's happy trails to Futty Danso and Frederic Piquionne, two players who departed midseason for very different reasons.

That's it, and that's all for the Timbers in 2014.

Timbers' Season Ends In Dallas

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They were never meant to be, the Portland Timbers and the 2014 MLS Playoffs, especially after a fatal, unexpected Champions League knockout blow in Honduras just three days before Portland took the field in Dallas for the final game of the regular season. The Timbers took care of business - if there was one thing this team could always be relied on to do, it was bounce back from adversity, all too often during games as well as between games - but Vancouver's gritty, sweaty, ugly 1-0 win over Colorado in British Columbia was enough to end the Timbers' season.

In reality, by the numbers, Portland got extremely unlucky over the last month. Despite only losing once in their final nine games, keeping five clean sheets, and winning four games in the face of losing captain Will Johnson to a gruesome ACL tear and capitulating to the tune of a potentially season-crippling collapse in Toronto, the Timbers won't play on this season.

Who could have foreseen Vancouver - the flaky Whitecaps, the team the Timbers beat 6-0 in two crucial games when the sun was still bright in early fall - going on a five-game unbeaten run to end the season, not conceding a goal for four straight games, and beating Seattle on the road en route to Kendall Waston's 69th minute header that clinched the team's second playoff appearance?

Very few, really, even in Vancouver.

Portland's final salvo of the exhausting 2014 campaign was one of their finest - a complete, well-rounded, well-managed 2-0 triumph on the road over a playoff FC Dallas team that was at full-strength.

The professionalism from start to finish, the solid defensive performance, and even flashes of brilliance from Alvas Powell and Maxi Urruti showed how far this team has come since the dog days of summer. Even Darlington Nagbe, who scored and put together one of his finest ever games for the Timbers, was finally at his best.

Since May, statistically, Portland was the fourth best team in MLS behind Seattle, LA, and DC United. Had they made the playoffs, Portland would have played the same match, against the same Dallas team, probably won, and then faced Seattle in the conference semis.

Yeah, Seattle in the conference semis.

But if you're going to have regrets about the way 2014 played out, have regrets about the team not having a bonafide target striker until June. Have regrets about Caleb Porter not figuring out his offense until Rodney Wallace's return in the early summer, and certainly have regrets about how the Timbers' central defense ever came down to the Raushawn McKenzie - Danny O'Rourke show.

No one walks away from this year feeling bad for the Timbers, and while that's surprising, considering how the final month of the season played out, it's just.

The anticlimactic finish for the Timbers on Saturday night was fitting for a season that mellowed after sparking so consistently and so frustratingly for so long.

Portland got good again at the end, sure, but it was too little, too late from a team that - make no mistake - drastically failed to live up to expectations in 2014. These were the defending Western Conference champions remember, and they were passed by five teams in the conference pecking order this season.

Next year, when the West adds Sporting Kansas City and Houston and loses Chivas USA, things will only get harder.

The promise of the Caleb Porter era is still intact, thanks to a lot of midseason money spent on Liam Ridgewell and Fanendo Adi, coupled with the Timbers' overall marked improvement over the fall, but it's hard to feel like 2014 was nothing more than a well drawn out tease - and a painful one at that.

According to a report from Jamie Goldberg, the Timbers believe that Diego Valeri tore his ACL in the win over Dallas. Although it's not going to be as severe as the injury suffered by Johnson in Toronto, it's going to be another roadblock for the Timbers in 2015 and a sour end to a sterling season for one of the most beloved men in Portland.

So maybe the impressive victory over Dallas wasn't worth it. Maybe 2014 wasn't worth it altogether.

So while one line of thought says that you would have liked to keep these Timbers together while they played their best soccer of the year at the most important time of the year, the prevailing and now mandated course of action for this franchise is a long, rejuvenating break. This team should - depending on injuries, most importantly to Valeri - be better next year. It was time to quit 2014.

Because if we're being honest, this year was never what anyone wanted it to be.

Timbers Hit Rock Bottom In Honduras

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Just when things were going well, the Portland Timbers went down to Honduras to get a slice of respite from an increasingly futile MLS playoff chase and instead ripped the scab off the deep cut that has been the 2014 season. It was a capitulation. CD Olimpia 3, Portland 1.

Just like that, the Timbers are out of the CONCACAF Champions League, destroying the last tangible reward of the 2013 Western Conference championship winning season, and harkening back to the ugly days of the summer and fall of 2012.

The Timbers dominated their CCL group, winning their other three group games by a combined score of 14-3. All Portland had to do in Honduras was lose by one goal, and they'd go through. There were even circumstances by which the Timbers could have advanced with a two goal loss - and this over a team that the Timbers waltzed by 4-2 at home a month ago.

Crashing out in the manner the Timbers just did is a crushing blow. It puts 2014 in an entirely new light. Nothing was accomplished this season. No MLS playoffs, most likely, but also no Champions League progression. It's been a lost year.

If the Timbers had advanced, they would have gone into the quarterfinals next spring - with a new team, a new sense of purpose, and possibly, a new chance to make a real mark in the competition. Instead, Portland won't get the chance to play those knockout round games - which is really where this competition becomes worthwhile anyway.

So, of course, the finger-pointing and the blaming and the Twitter wars started in earnest at full-time, because the mix of the Timbers' biggest fans and their owner has always been a self-righteous, volatile mix.

But before we go any further, let's make this much clear: The Timbers didn't go out of the Champions League because they didn't care enough about the competition.

Caleb Porter started the team he started because the team he started had shown time and time again in this competition that they could win and win big.

Porter wasn't taking any chances, either. Liam Ridgewell started for Raushawn McKenzie, and Jorge Villafana was included as well. Portland was, for all intents and purposes, playing with a first-choice back-line and an expensive group of attacking players with more firepower on the bench.

In hindsight, Porter would have started Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Diego Chara, but he had a rhythm for his Champions League team, and he couldn't have predicted that they would have come up so woefully short. With a potentially decisive game coming up next weekend in Dallas, Porter played the team he thought would give him the best chance to be successful in both matches.

Certainly, that faith alone doesn't get Porter off the hook. His team was woefully unprepared to start the game. How else do you - even after conceding a mostly skillfully fortuitous goal - go 2-0 down in the first five minutes?

Of course Olimpia came out on fire. Of course their intensity was high. They were playing a major American team, at home, in front of one of their biggest crowds of the year, for upset advancement in the Champions League.

I think Porter has made great strides this year. He's learned how to deal with adversity, and learned an extra layer of professionalism that was lacking as the Timbers struggled early in the season. But he was exposed in this game. Not because who he picked to play, but how he prepared them to play.

But the players weren't lions either. The defending on the second and third goals was absolutely atrocious. All year, the defense has destroyed the Timbers.

Recently, at least since the Toronto FC debacle, the defending has improved, but against Olimpia, it was back at its worst.

Liam Ridgewell is a good player, and an important player for the Timbers. But there's no way he's worth the $1.3 million dollars the Timbers have committed to him, in any league in the world. He's simply not that good.

Portland threw that money at him because they panicked. They were sitting on an injured Pa Kah, an injured Norberto Paparatto, McKenzie, and Danny O'Rourke midseason, and needed help badly.

I can see why Porter and Gavin Wilkinson were smitten with Ridgewell. He's a great character. With the Timbers, most guys are. But the Timbers need more than Ridgewell, and spending that much money and a valuable DP spot on a center-back was a gamble made in the heat of a bad moment.

Ridgewell was flat-out bad in this game. And though the Timbers huffed and puffed - and in the case of the Argentine trio of Norberto Paparatto, Gaston Fernandez, and Maxi Urruti, really huffed along with their teammates to the tune of seven acrimonious yellow cards - Portland couldn't pull the bullets out of its feet.

Even Ben Zemanski's blast to pull the score to 2-1 in the second half was lucky, as a major deflection left the Olimpia goalkeeper stranded. Right after Zemanski scored, the tricky Anthony Lozano slid in behind Ridgewell to tap home a cross and make it 3-1 and knock the Timbers out.

It was a painful defeat, not just because of the stakes of the game, but also because it was a tense encounter with water bottles being thrown on the field that was eventually covered by smoke while the game was still being played.

This loss goes up with the Cal FC loss among the most damaging games in Timbers MLS history.

What happened afterward with Merritt Paulson and the Timbers Army on Twitter was embarrassing for everyone involved - and on a day when there had been even more press about the great relationship between the Army and the team.

I'm not going to rehash incidents that don't deserve rehashing, but it goes without saying that Paulson's tweet was, as usual, unprofessional, distasteful, and just so plainly stupid that you wonder if getting off Twitter - as Paulson has promised to do after this season - will do the team a hell of a lot of good.

It's been a frustrating and trying year for everyone. A sophomore slump, if you will, in the Caleb Porter era. This was just the final blow. Everyone deserves some blame, from Paulson on down, but the walls of the club are not falling down. The progress in two years under Porter has still been amazing.

The Timbers will be back and maybe just better than ever next year. Year three is the landmark year of any reign, and year three for Porter should hold big things. The defense will be changed again. Depth at the attacking positions will be added, but at the same time, continuity and sameness in the team should help. This franchise learned a lot this year.

They've hit rock bottom, the Portland Timbers, and just as the climb towards the incredible 2013 season began when Kris Boyd skied his penalty more than two years ago, the climb back to those heights of 2013 and beyond begins now.

FC Dallas v. Portland Match Preview

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Needing a minor last day miracle to qualify for the MLS Playoffs, Portland travels to Dallas for their final match of the season. @ Toyota Park - Saturday, 5:30 PM. TV on ROOT Sports. Radio on 750 AM the Game.

Portland - 11-9-13, 6th Place in the Western Conference

The Timbers just might have put in their best performance of the season against Real Salt Lake on Friday night. They didn't win, but it was a circus - and not a "heart of a lion, brain of a goldfish" circus that grew so exhausting over the spring or summer. It was a circus because of the rain, a surreal performance from Nick Rimando, and the desperation of the situation for the Timbers.

The defense shut a playoff team down, and with any other goalkeeper in the net, the Timbers would have had their signature win of the season. It was a performance that felt good, that felt promising, and made you wish the 2015 season would start tomorrow.

Then Portland went down to Honduras to do a job. A one goal loss, even a two goal loss would send Portland to the Champions League quarterfinals and give the Timbers something bigger to look forward to next spring. Instead, the Timbers fell apart in a tense 3-1 loss that put a horrible taste in the mouth of everyone as we head into the offseason.

The only way Portland can brush that taste out of their mouth is shockingly qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs. They'll need a win on the road over a hot Dallas team, and the coldest team in the league the Colorado Rapids to go into BC Place and most likely beat the Vancouver Whitecaps. Which is to say, count on the offseason starting on Sunday.

FC Dallas - 16-11-6, 4th Place in the Western Conference

There was a point in the middle of the season when it felt like FC Dallas might be headed down the same road they went down last year when they collapsed from a league-leading position to miss the playoffs and change coaches. Dallas was struggling with injuries, lineup adjustments, and a tough Western Conference.

But Oscar Pareja righted the ship, and now Dallas is a team no one wants to play in the playoffs, with their own chance to avoid the 4-5 Wild Card with a win over the Timbers. Dallas has won three of their last four, including wins over both LA and Seattle.

Although their not the most purely talented team in the country, Dallas has a chippy, run and gun formula that works for them, especially at home. Portland's last meeting with Dallas was a nightmarish affair for both teams that saw the Gaston Fernandez - Will Johnson penalty spat and two FCD red cards.

There might be some bad blood here, and Dallas - despite already being qualified for the playoffs - will have plenty of motivation for seeding purposes regardless.

Tactics

Norberto Paparatto is, once again, out with a yellow card suspension. That means we should see Pa Moudu Kah - who, for all we know, may be playing his last Timbers game, back in central defense. Other than that, it should be the same eleven Caleb Porter has rolled with for the last month in MLS.

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Key Player

Darlington Nagbe was nicknamed the FC Dallas Killer last year by short-lived Timbers play-by-play man Christian Miles. If there's any team Nagbe can score against this year, you figure this is the team.

Final Thoughts

It's all on Portland. The Vancouver - Colorado game kicks off after the Timbers and Dallas will have finished, so the 'Caps will know exactly what they do - or don't - need. If Portland can get a win at Dallas at this time of the year, it'd arguably be their best win of the year on paper. In any case, this team needs an offseason to straighten itself out and refocus. 2014 has been a whirlwind.

Prediction

The Timbers first team is playing well, so I'll vouch for an entertaining 2-2 draw that won't be enough for either team to accomplish their goals.

Timbers Get Back To Square One In Crazy Final Home Game

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In many ways, it felt like the 2014 Portland Timbers’ home season was ending just how it started all the way back on March 8th against the Philadelphia Union. There was a terrific tifo display from the Timbers Army pregame, a light, but deceivingly persistent rain, and the home team in their throwback green and gold kits, struggling to find a goal. Against Philadelphia, the Timbers did end up scoring. Gaston Fernandez nodded home a quickly-taken corner in stoppage time, a fluke goal to cap off a dissatisfying night that would set the tone for the first eight games which ended up killing the Timbers’ season.

Against Salt Lake – remarkably, amazingly, inexplicably – the Timbers could not score. And yet this Timbers team has come such a long way. Nothing says goals are soccer’s ultimate fools gold like the Timbers scoring against the Union and not scoring against RSL. But this was billed as win or bust, right? Well the Timbers busted. The playoff hopes of the reigning regular season Western Conference champions hang by the thinnest of threads.

Obviously, how we got to this point with the Timbers this year has very little to do with what happened against Real Salt Lake, and a whole lot more with what happened after that draw against Philadelphia in the early and middle parts of the season.

Perhaps that’s why, despite again failing to win at home and ending the season with a most measly five home wins from seventeen games, and all but ending their playoff hopes, the Timbers walk off heads held high.

This team deserves a hearty clap on the shoulder after this game. Not because of their effort, or their attitudes, or their spirit – we should expect nothing less than what they gave tonight – but because this team has gone about reclaiming their dignity over the last few months.

The Timbers played with purpose and clarity. They did their jobs effectively and professionally. They looked organized and driven, and they set themselves up for success.

So often this year, that wasn’t the case.

No, the Timbers didn’t get the goal tonight. So be it. It was a crazy entertaining game, with so much jaw-dropping action packed into the second half that the only thing that could have made it better would have been Alvas Powell turning into a flying squirrel.

There’s no opponent like RSL for the Timbers. Never has been. Nick Rimando – whose true brilliance is summed up best by the fact that we expect and are still shocked by it – is the Timbers’ toughest opposing matchup in the league.

He hasn’t conceded a goal at Providence Park for over 275 minutes. Rimando’s most incredible save was on Darlington Nagbe, who couldn’t get much more beleaguered if he stood on a deserted street corner in a rainstorm trying to sell the Oregonian.

Nagbe’s point blank volley that Rimando saved required athleticism and acrobatics so astounding that it was impossible to believe in real time what had just happened.

When watching Rimando on a night like that, it’s hard to believe he’s not the best goalkeeper in the world, let alone this country.

But it wasn’t just Rimando in this game.

It was Norberto Paparatto smashing a header into Luis Gil’s unengaged stomach on the goal-line. It was the bunches of chances, the scrambles, the crowd noise, the incredible tempo, and the fact that the first half was a tight, organized, mostly uneventful and forgettable, that gave the game its surreal feel.

Even with Nagbe retreating further into his own trouble, and the rest of the Timbers’ attacking players struggling at various times to find their grooves on the wet surface, Portland threw the kitchen sink at RSL.

It was the kind of fire the Timbers threw at the very beginning of the Porter era – not the contrived, faux-brave comeback style attacks we saw all too much this year.

Part of the reason the Timbers’ attack had so much weight was that their defense was terrific. Across the back-four, every player had a solid game.

Diego Chara, though, deserves his fair share of the credit – fifteen recoveries in the first half give you an idea how immense he was. Chara is just a soccer gem. The Timbers would be lost without him.

This was a game to point to when rhetorically asking if 0-0 draws can’t be interesting and if MLS lacks quality. It was all there in this game.

Portland certainly gave a good account of themselves. They exit this game without two necessary points, but they played their part in a classic.

What more can you ask?

That was certainly the central theme of Caleb Porter’s post-game remarks. Porter too, once the sorest of losers, has come a long way this year too.

He said he was proud of his guys. It was just one of those nights.

Contrary to what his personnel decisions may have indicated earlier in the year, Porter loves continuity. He admires teams like RSL and LA who have kept the same group intact over a number of years.

That’s why you can expect the eleven who take the field the next time the Portland Timbers play a competitive home game may be the same, or almost the same, as the eleven that suited up against RSL.

That’s good. These eleven can play. Don’t expect the Timbers to shake things up drastically at all this winter.

One thought, though, rankles as we head into the offseason after next week. This game should have been that opening day game against Philadelphia.

The 2014 Timbers consistently and predictably sold themselves short far too often this year.

Much of the season was devoted to getting back to ground zero – getting back to the place where Portland was headed into the season.

I think with what might prove to be their last gasp of 2014, the Timbers finally did make it back. They didn’t win, but the Timbers did do themselves justice. The future is bright after all.

Portland v. Real Salt Lake Match Preview

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With their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, Portland needs to beat Real Salt Lake in their final home match of 2014 and hope for help. @ Providence Park - Friday, 7:00 PM. TV on NBCSN. Radio on 750 AM the Game.

Portland - 11-9-12, 6th Place in the Western Conference

The Timbers' sins are finally catching up to them.

No, not sins committed recently. Portland were good last week in taking care of business against San Jose's glorified USL side, and they played admirably since losing Will Johnson and three points in Toronto almost a month ago.

But its impossible to forget - no matter how good the numbers get and how many goals hit the back of the net - how frustrating and infuriating the Timbers were in the spring and summer. Dropping points, leaking goals, shaking up their roster, and generally making for an exhilarating but infrequently rewarding season.

Portland might deserve to go to the playoffs over Vancouver since they beat them 3-0 in two consecutive match-ups, but they'd probably be a playoff long-shot if Vancouver didn't have a torrid early fall and Colorado and the Earthquakes didn’t completely implode.

This much is clear: Portland have to beat Real Salt Lake at home on Friday night if they want to keep their outside playoff chances intact. The Timbers have never beaten RSL at home, and haven’t played Jeff Cassar’s team since the spring. If the Timbers fail to win at home, it will be a fitting end to a season that always flattered to deceive.

Real Salt Lake – 14-8-10, 3rd Place in the Western Conference

They’re certainly not Seattle or LA, but RSL has stayed a relevant playoff team in the first year of the Cassar era, something that couldn’t be taken for granted after Jason Kreis left for NYCFC after last year’s MLS Cup near miss.

This game is important for Salt Lake, who will desperately want to finish third in the West and avoid a tricky Wild Card game. RSL haven’t been great recently – they’ve lost two of three and three of their last five – and suddenly have a rejuvenated FC Dallas breathing down their necks for third.

But there isn’t a real sense of worry around the club at the moment, in large part because RSL has gotten very healthy, very fast, over the last month. Alvaro Saborio is back, and the potential of an increased late role for Sebastian Velazquez is also an intriguing possibility.

Nick Rimando – who said after RSL’s last visit that Providence Park was a bucket list venue for soccer fans – returns from international duty for this game, while Kyle Beckerman was not called in. This is Cassar’s first visit to Providence Park as a manager, and RSL’s first and last game in Portland of the year.

Tactics

Portland will almost certainly trot out the eleven we’ve gotten used to seeing over the last month – Caleb Porter likes the newfound stability.

The only question is at center-back. Pa Moudu Kah may be back in the team, but playing him in this type of environment would certainly be a risk. My guess is that Norberto Paparatto will play and be given fits RSL’s mini-forwards – which is the only reason Kah could end up getting the call.

There’s also a question as to how much time Maxi Urruti will get – his minutes have been decreasing rapidly over the last month, and not by accident. Fanendo Adi has earned his time. Urruti is great trade bait – the rest of the league thinks he’s better than he actually is – and it will be interesting to see if Porter recommits to getting him 30+ minutes on Friday.

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Key Player

It’s clear that Darlington Nagbe is in pieces mentally in front of goal, but it’s important that he does score before the end of the season. There’s no one that wants Nagbe carrying around the weight of a goalless season into 2015.

Nagbe has still be good away from goal this fall, but his confidence and effectiveness is clearly suffering. Diego Valeri establishing himself as the alpha male of the offense, and the team, could give Nagbe more time and space. A home game against Real Salt Lake was Nagbe’s coming out party in 2012, a goal for him here would be the perfect end to a trying home campaign.

Final Thoughts

San Jose and Vancouver don’t play until Saturday, so on Friday the Timbers have to focus on their game. It shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see how much belief and mental fortitude this team has if things start going wrong. The ‘Caps win in Seattle last Friday was a gut-punch. This team knows that they’re an inch away from very disappointing season.

Prediction

I think RSL keeps the game tight, keeps the midfield compact, and manufactures a result. My guess is a deflating 1-1 draw.