14,985 Witness a Wild One At PGE Park
The Portland Timbers (9-7-8, 35pts) played the Austin Aztex (13-3-6, 45pts) to a 1-1 draw in an emotionally charged match that would see a flurry of fouls, eight yellow cards, and multiple ejections, including one for the opposing team’s manager. Despite a chaotic ending that would see a bit of controversy and a red card booking for midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, Portland would play a majority of the 2nd half with a man advantage yet was unable to find the game-winning goal. With the draw, the Timbers will remain in 4th place in the overall standings, and have 6 games left in the season with a tough Carolina Railhawks team only one point behind them.
An interesting and exciting match, the Timbers would open the scoring just 4-minutes into the 1st half, a misplaced ball by an Aztex defender would lead to a break away up the sideline for forward Bright Dike. Dike would use his strength to get inside the Austin box, bouncing defender Kieron Bernard off his shoulder and striking a low shot by keeper Miguel Gallardo for the early lead. Dike’s 4th goal in 6 matches. However, it wouldn’t take long for the Aztex to find their equalizer, as midfielder Sullivan Silva would score his 1st goal of the season in the 26th minute on a beautiful volleyed blast that would skip through a crowd of Portland defenders, perfectly placed into the corner of the net. Truly, a top class play.
For the most part, the 1st half was a ragged and rough affair. The teams would combine for a total of 18 fouls in the first 45 minutes, with Austin committing 10, including a yellow card for Kieron Bernard. With all the physical play, neither side was able to find a real rhythm to their attack or sustain possession for extended periods. As a result, offensive creativity was often reduced to searching long balls over the top and other quick hitting plays. Still, Portland would apply pressure to close out the half, finding close chances for both Alex Nimo and Keith Savage. Overall, the Timbers would outwork Austin (the league’s best offensive team), outshooting them 9-4 heading into the locker room.
2nd Half Breakdown
Here’s where things get crazy. Portland would open the 2nd half the same way they closed the first forty-five, moving the ball around well, probing deep into the opposing eighteen, and creating dangerous scoring opportunities. The game-changing moment would come in the 56th minute. Austin defender Kieron Bernard, perhaps frustrated by Portland’s constant pressure, would be booked for his second yellow card after recklessly clipping midfielder Ryan Pore as he pushed forward on a run into the offensive third.
From here, the strategy of the match would shift dramatically. The Timbers would play the next 34 minutes with a one-man advantage, however, they would fail to fully control the match as Austin went into survival mode, fouling and stalling play wherever and whenever available in an effort to preserve the draw.
“We didn’t take advantage of the red card,” Said Dike, “They slowed it down and we could never pick up the pace of the game.”
“They’re smart footballers,” Said Joy. “They get the ball, they try to waste time, they play for fouls…and getting yellow cards. “
Was Austin’s strategy good soccer? Certainly not making their best effort to play the “beautiful game”, the Aztex main goal was in fact the opposite, instead trying to ugly things up on the field as much as possible. What do you think? Cheap or clever? Cowardly or commendable?
(56th min) Austin goes a man down.
(57th min) An intentional foul in the backfield to make a player change. Austin subs out striker Maxwell Griffin to bring in rarely used defender Sam Brill, shifting to a one-forward formation and often packed 5 or sometimes even 6 players into the box to defend the backline.
(58th min) For the next 5 minutes or so, Austin was content to play keep away, not really probing and on multiple occasions passing the ball backwards. The Timbers didn’t help matters, struggling to settle into an attack and carelessly turning the ball over on repeated possessions.
(62nd min) Steve Cronin misjudges a run to the top of the box, the loose ball bouncing wide to forward Eddie Johnson. With Cronin out of goal, Johnson would send a rolling shot on target, but defender Mamadou Danso would fortuitously be in position for the block.
(63rd min) Timbers would counter-attack quickly, midfielder Alex Nimo slipping his way towards the top of the box and sending a left-footed shot just wide of the post. Portland seems to wake up, beginning to control possession and control the tone a bit more.
(67th min) An Austin foul at midfield. Suddenly, Aztex manager Adrian Heath is given a red card and ejected from the match after an exchange of words with an official on the sideline. Heath would then walk off the field and head towards the North End, first passing by Gavin Wilkinson and shaking his hand, then walking up into the stands, finding a seat in the rafters, leaning back with a dejected-look smeared across his face and proceed to watch the match amongst the fans. Strange. Simply bizarre and I’ll admit, also kinda awesome. Eventually, Heath was escorted back to the locker room.
(71st min) Pore would find some space entering into the middle of the offensive third. Austin commits a foul, tripping Pore up before he can create anything.
(73rd min) Keeper Miguel Gallardo collides with teammate Kevin Sakuda leaping to stop an incoming cross. Sakuda and Gallardo both lay on the field addressing their wounds, momentarily stopping play. Gallardo gets up and kicks the ball out of bounds to stop play and bring in a substitution.
(75th min) A 50/50 ball high in the air, defender Ross Smith and Austin’s Eddie Johnson both leap to put a head on it and collide. Johnson takes an elbow to the face and falls to the ground. Another stoppage of play. Smith is given a yellow card. Multiple Timbers surround the referee to protest the call. For the fans and the players, the intensity of the match seems to raise to even another level here.
(84th min) After a Timber’s foul, Gallardo milks time off the clock, claiming that Portland players weren’t allowing the mandatory 10 yards of space for a free kick. Gallardo is given a yellow card for stalling, essentially stalling the game more.
(85th min) Joy touches his hand to the back of Watson, who instantly drops to the ground for the foul. Watson takes a moment to adjust his socks, then untie and retie his shoe before taking the free kick.
(87th min) Pore bursts through a pack of players on a nice run across the midfield, but is stopped by an Austin defender Yohance Marshall, who literally hurls his body into Pore’s legs, taking both men out and sending Pore tumbling to the ground. No foul is called.
(87th min) Marshall remains on the ground, selling the collision that he himself initiated. Play is stopped momentarily.
(88th min) Callahan makes a dangerous sliding tackle on Lopez, cleats to ankle, dropping him to the ground. Calahan is given a caution.
(Stoppage Time) Austin makes a final substitution. Seemingly pointless at this point in the match, unless an attempt to waste more time and stop play yet again.
(Stoppage Time) After minimal contact, an Austin player dives onto the ground, his body falling over the ball. He smothers the ball momentarily with his stomach until he is whistled for a hand ball violation.
(Stoppage Time) Gallardo takes a Danso header off his chest in an attempt to kill time. Joy rushes into the box to try and make a play, grazing Gallardo with his arm. Gallardo falls to the ground writhing in pain for over a minute. Joy turns to Gallardo, his arms up in disbelief, and he is quickly swarmed by multiple Austin players. Chaos ensues. Players are shoving, grabbing, and shouting at each other. After the dust settles, Rodrigo Lopez is given a red card and ejected from contest for his part in the may-lay, perhaps for aggravating the situation (there’s speculation that a punch may have been thrown as well). Either way he’s sitting out next game.
It should also be noted that there were multiple instances where Austin would frivolously boot the ball down the field, effectively breaking up the rhythm of the game. The Aztex often dove or crumbled to the turf after minimal physical contact, causing hesitation and awkward moments throughout the 2nd half. Grabbing, pulling, and other acts of gamesmanship were common tactics by the Aztex, essentially putting the referee in tough situations, placing pressure on the official to make calls when there had already been so many fouls blown in the game.
“Every time the referee stopped the game it slowed us down,” Said Joy with frustration. “And then we had to start from scratch again.”
“They took the pace out of the game,” Added Dike. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm cause they slowed down everything that they could. “
The Timbers could never successfully maintain possession and failed to control the tempo and tone of the match. Certainly, Austin’s survival and stall methods had an impact, but Portland didn’t help their cause by carelessly giving the ball away and committing far too many turnovers to find a flow. Too often the Timbers played frantically and seemed to over-press at times. More patience may have helped.
Said Coach Wilkinson, “It’s a win that escaped us.”
Still, Portland outshot Austin 4-2 in the 2nd half and fired a myriad of shots in the closing moments. Austin meanwhile, rarely threatened in the final 18yards, as Cronin didn’t record a single save on the night. A break here or a break there and the outcome of the game could have been different. Again, fortune not quite siding with the Timbers.
Ultimately, in a statement match for two of the league’s top teams, both sides would play with passion and desperation, but after another 90 minutes the score would finish tied yet again. Nothing has really been decided after two tough battles, the story not quite finished between these two teams this season. Sounds like the stuff rivalries are made of. It’ll be fun stuff if these clubs can somehow collide in the playoffs.
== Box Score ==
*Photos provided by Allison Andrews @ Timber Mill
Posted by Kevin