Skip to content

It may only be preseason, but Portland, Porter right to be confident

Feb 18, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT

San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers - Portland Timbers Tournament Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — Had the score reflected the unbalanced play, people outside of Portland may have taken notice: The Caleb Porter Project is starting to yield early returns for the Timbers. True, his defense was mistake-prone and made what should have been a comfortable victory into what appears to be a shootout, but for 90 minutes against the Supporters’ Shield holders, Porter’s product was as advertised. His team passed, pressed, ran and rocked the visiting Earthquakes onto their heels, leaving 14,229 at Jeld-Wen Field with a performance that transcended the result.

“In the end I think we proved to ourselves and each other that we’re capable of beating anybody in Major League Soccer,” was Porter’s bold assessment after the 3-3 result, a game highlighted by a hat trick by new Timber Ryan Johnson. It also featured three defensive mistakes which allowed San Jose to earn a draw.

“There were some moments in the game that we need to address,” Porter conceded. “The nice thing is that those are things that are easily addressable.”

The first goal, three minutes in, came after a ball-to-hand in the box. Chris Wondolowski buried the opener from the spot. A midfield foul and a converted set piece allowed Victor Bernardez to score San Jose’s second, while chaos in the penalty area let former Timber Mike Fucito give the Earthquakes a late equalizer.

The goals weren’t enough to cloud Porter’s standout Jeld-Wen debut, one that allowed his team to show the stylistic revolution anticipated from the former Akron boss is more than some hyperbolic fable. Returning from their four-game stretch in Arizona, the difference between Porter’s teams and the style of former coach John Spencer’s was drastic. The Timbers dominated possession, relied on short passing that capitalized on constant off-the-ball movement, and were steadily throwing players at the defense.

The first goal, two minutes after San Jose’s opener, illustrated the approach. San Jose left back Justin Morrow had been drawn in, leaving Portland fullback Ryan Miller — advanced to play along San Jose’s line — space to receive and play a pass toward the byline. Kalif Alhassen ran through the channel and onto the ball, providing a perfect near-post cross to Ryan Johnson. The Jamaican international’s looping header pulled Portland even.

Portland opened up San Jose’s midfield for the second, Diego Valeri given too much time to threat a ball behind Bernardez for Ryan Johnson, while the third saw Johnson chip Jon Busch to complete a Portland counter.

(MORE: Ryan Johnson hits for three in Jeld-Wen debut – HIGHLIGHTS)

It may have just a preseason game, but San Jose started seven regulars. Portland started nine players who are likely parts of Porter’s First Kick XI, but their setup was slightly different than the one we’re likely see against New York on March 3. The relatively flat midfield in Sunday’s setup should give away to a midfield diamond, with newly acquired Ben Zemanski playing at its base.

But with time running out on the preseason, it’s time to start drawing some conclusions about teams’ preparedness. And in that regard, Portland is far ahead of the game. You can see Valeri will be their playmaker, Johnson their push, and (eventually) Nagbe their poacher. You can see a narrow midfield giving way for fullbacks to provide width and pressure.

You can see the chemistry developing among players learning to read each other’s movements, and you can see players bursting from midfield seeking to exploit the space exposed by their passing game. It’s shocking how much the team is playing to the Caleb Porter hype.

source: Getty ImagesIt’s the type of approach a stylistic homogenous, tactically risk-averse MLS rarely sees. That was evident by San Jose’s reaction. The Earthquakes, playing a standard MLS 4-4-2, saw their midfield flattened and rooted by the Timbers’ movement, with the home side habitually breaking down the Earthquakes’ left flank. Even after Frank Yallop switched loanee John Bostock with starting right midfielder Shea Salinas, San Jose couldn’t stop right back Ryan Miller and right midfielder Kalif Alhassan from teaming with forwards Johnson and Diego Valeri (right) to breach that side. The Timbers’ new passing and movement was going to take more than 90 minutes for San Jose to get used to.

“That’s going to be a strength of our team,” Porter said of his side’s style, sentiments that have been echoed since his mid-winter introduction. “We want to be an aggressive team … a proactive team. We want to be on the front foot, and we want teams to have to deal with us. San Jose had to deal with us tonight.”

San Jose couldn’t say the same of Portland. For most of the night they were without the ball and forced to rely on transition for opportunities. Yet with three goals that came decidedly against the run of play, the Earthquakes highlighted why Portland’s 2012 defense ranked 17th in Major League Soccer. Giveaways, soft fouls, and lapses in focus — all correctable offenses — kept the Timbers from victory.

“It’s easier to clean up the defensive side,” Porter said of his team’s progress. “It’s easier to sort out a giveaway that can’t happen. It’s easier to sort out getting your back four tightened up. It’s easier to sort out marking a guy on a set piece. Those things will be sorted out …”

Even if the defense stays problematic, Sunday’s game represented a huge step forward for the Timbers. Not only do they seem better than last year, but their style of soccer is much improved. That entertainment value is something owner Merritt Paulson has stressed since the Timbers entered Major League Soccer. Even if Portland can’t challenge for a playoff spot, a new, more ambitious tactical approach will be a reprieve for Timbers’ fans.

source: Getty Images“I was pleased because there were moments where we showed Portland Timbers football and our identity and what it’s going to be,” Porter said. “We also showed we’re adjustable as well, and we do what we need to win games.

“That’s a mark of a good team in MLS. You know who you are but you also can adjust and be flexible at times if you need to.

This all assumes the team that showed up on Sunday is for real. It could have just been a good night against a team that’s not as far along in their preseason preparation. Until Portland can transfer this production onto a regular season game, the revolution’s yet to start.

Ultimately, it was just an exhibition, though it was one that will inspire a lot of conviction.

“[San Jose] was the best team in the regular season last year. We went toe-to-toe with this team, and in the end, I thought we were the aggressor looking to win.

“If we would have cleaned up a few mistakes, the game would have been ours. So we take a lot of belief and confidence from this game. “

Latest Posts
  1. NWSL Digest: Feeling the Spirit as we move past Week 2

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    A future star makes a quick impact as Washington puts week one behind them.

  2. Five moments that mattered in Bayern Munich’s trip to Real Madrid

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT

    cristiano_ronaldo Getty Images

    Ronaldo pronounced fit; Benzema breaks through, and Casillas stones Götze.

  3. PHOTOS: Liverpool reveal ambitious Anfield expansion plans

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Source: Liverpool Football Club Source: Liverpool Football Club

    Incredible plans to expand Anfield revealed, as public will now have their say:

  4. Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win vs. Bayern Munich

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT

    arjen_robben_xabi_alonso Getty Images

    Tedious Tiki-Taka, counter-attacking clinic and gilt-edge chances:

  5. Benzema goal holds up as Real Madrid claim 1-0 lead over Bayern Munich

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    karim_benzema_real_madrid AP

    Striker’s 19th minute score gives the nine-time champions a 1-0 lead ahead of next week’s second leg.

  6. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Week 35

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT

    Raheem Sterling has been on fire as Liverpool surge up the standings. AP

    Find out who won the PL Player of the Week award, right here:

  7. VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Week 35

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:36 PM EDT

    connor_wickham Getty Images

    Which players made the PL team of the week? Find out, right here:

  8. Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 7

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    obafemi_martins_dan_kennedy AP

    The top two remain unchanged, but there’s a major shakeup in elsewhere near the top of our weekly rankings.

  9. DC Brew-nited: Team, keeper among MLS folks in the craft beer game

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT

    http://www.dcbrau.com/ http://www.dcbrau.com/

    Andrew Dykstra wants to brew you a beer, and several teams have specific offerings in mind.

  10. Star-studded lineups unveiled for Real and Bayern; Bale on bench

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    Real Madrid v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Getty Images

    The big guns will be firing for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, and there’s plenty of ammunition on both benches if needed.

  11. Moyes statement on dismissal; Reports say he was recruiting to the end

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-CHELSEA Getty Images

    Reports say David Moyes was “seething” at what he perceived to be an unprofessional dismissal from Manchester United.

  12. Head coach Marc Wilmots says Adnan Januzaj will play for Belgium

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT

    Januzaj Getty Images

    Bad news for England, as Januzaj is headed for a brand new Belgium kit.

  13. Who’s in across Europe? Glancing at the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT

    Portugal Soccer AP

    Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage

  14. Landon Donovan praises David Moyes, says he’d be welcome in MLS

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT

    Donovan-Moyes

    Speaking with Sports Illustrated’s SI Now, Donovan spent some time lauding David Moyes and lamenting his dismissal from Manchester United.

  15. WATCH: Rafa Marquez’s latest blatant, unnecessary attempt to injure

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT

    Rafa Marquez AP

    He’s simply one of the worst that’s ever played.

  16. Newcastle veteran Ameobi takes shot at club’s transfer failings

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT

    Newcastle United v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    Shola Ameobi has played a lot of roles during his time at Newcastle; His latest role is vocal critic of the club’s transfer practices.

  17. Jermaine Jones’ tattoo will have opponents seeing stars (and stripes)

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT

    Jermaine Jones 2

    The USMNT midfielder posted this shot to his Instagram account on Tuesday, proclaiming his new stars and stripes knee tattoo complete.

  18. Liverpool’s Ayre to spend this summer: “It will cost what it costs”

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT

    Leaders in Sport Getty Images

    The Champions League will make Liverpool more attractive, says its managing director, and the club will spend money to fortify its team.

  19. Manchester United adds another Class of ’92 member to training pitch

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT

    Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    Paul Scholes joined former teammates Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt as Manchester United prepared for this week’s match vs Norwich

  20. Barcelona’s transfer ban suspended by FIFA, should allow club to make summer moves

    Apr 23, 2014, 7:32 AM EDT

    Neymar Getty Images

    This is a massive break for the Blaugranas and will no doubt be met with consternation by its rivals.

Featured video

FIRED: Where David Moyes went wrong