Timbers start strong, and finish
The Portland Timbers gave Club Atletico Independiente of Argentina no reason to cry for them Tuesday night. While it was not quite as tragic as Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Evita,' it was a 2-0 loss behind the strength of two Timbers' first-half goals at Jeld-Wen Field.
Coach John Spencer credited the win to the Timbers' unhappiness with recent losses and determination to come away with a victory in their fourth and final international friendly.
'We mentioned before the game, that us as a staff, us as a club, we're sick and tired of losing games, regardless of what it is,' Spencer said. 'It doesn't matter whether it's PDL games, U-15 Timbers teams, you put on the uniform and it's got to mean something special to you.'
The first half before the announced crowd of 18,627 was a free-flowing battle with the ball traveling from box to box. Independiente's technical ability, speed and athleticism enabled the visitors to attack the Timbers goal. But Portland's play was far more notable. Using a 4-3-3 formation, the Timbers were an offensive force.
'There wasn't one (Timber) player on the field tonight, in the first half especially, that didn't look a quality player,' Spencer said.
In the 36th minute, Eddie Johnson got behind Independiente's midfield. He saw Sal Zizzo unmarked at the right elbow of the 18-yard box and rolled the ball to him.
Zizzo took a touch and fired a rolling shot at the far post. Independiente goalkeeper Hilario Navarro seemed surprised that the ball came right at him. He dove too high. The shot threaded the needle between his body and outstretched hands and made it into the back of the net.
The goal was Zizzo's first while playing with the Timbers' first team.
'The ball was played into Eddie, and I just wanted to run forward without the ball,' Zizzo said. 'They didn't do a good job tracking me. He played a good through ball. I took a touch. I just tried to keep it low and hard and did well with it and scored.'
The Timbers remained on the attack. In the 39th minute, they took a commanding 2-0 lead.
After an Independiente foul, new Timber Mike Chabala took a free kick from 40 yards. Chabala sent the ball into the middle of the 18-yardbox. Midfielder Brian Umony out-jumped everyone. With his back turned completely to the goal, Umony flicked the ball with his head, sending it over Navarro and just under the crossbar.
'It was a good delivery,' Umony said. 'You've got to give it to the guys that pressed the ball into our own half. We got a free kick, then a good free kick, and we scored a goal.'
Umony was even able to whip his head around after he landed and watch the goal go in.
'Yes, I saw it go in,' he said. 'Once my head got onto it you just knew it was going in because the keeper had already moved from his line.'
In the second half, the Timbers' offense cooled. Independiente dominated possession, but was unable to create any serious scoring opportunities.
'In the second half, we really didn't have a lot of the ball,' Timbers defender Jeremy Hall said. 'They were pushing and pushing to try and get one and then get the second back. But our shape was great today.'
In the last 15 minutes, the Timbers began sensing how near victory was. At almost the same instant, Independiente realized that it had to chase the game.
As Independiente began pushing numbers, the Timbers refused to break. Portland began tackling harder and closing down faster on the ball.
The effort paid off. Independiente was unable to find a good look at the goal.
'The guys, you could just tell that they had a little look in their eyes that they worked so hard to get into this position against a quality team and they weren't going to let it slip,' Spencer said.
When the final whistle sounded, the Timbers had won their first and last friendly of the season.
Spencer admitted that the result of a friendly does not define the club.
'I've come in here (to the pressroom) before and said that we lost the game tonight but it's only an exhibition game,' Spencer said. 'So it works both ways."
But Portland struggled all season to finish matches strong. That does mean something.
'At halftime I said to them, 'We don't concede tonight,' ' Spencer said. ''This has got to end. And it starts tonight. We end giving up goals and clinging on for games.''