Timbers overcome adversity with 'desire' and aggressiveness
The match Wednesday night between the Portland Timbers and the Los Angeles Galaxy was a gambler's worst nightmare.
The first time the sides met, in April, L.A. trounced Portland 3-0. The Galaxy were the best club in Major League Soccer; the Timbers were struggling at the bottom of the Western Conference. Would the rematch be similar?
Things got worse for the Timbers in the hours before the battle at Jeld-Wen Field. Midfielder and Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury was not even on the roster because of a hamstring injury. Then, slated starting striker Eddie Johnson suffered a concussion in pregame warm-ups.
You could almost hear the gamblers calling their bookies to bet the house as they lit up a cigar.
But that was not at all how things worked out, as the Timbers pulled off a shocking 3-0 blowout.
• Though no one would say the Timbers are better off without Jewsbury, not being able to rely on the All-Star's masterful set pieces made the Timbers put more emphasis on the run of play.
"I feel like a lot of guys stepped up vocally and a lot of guys stepped up leadership-wise,' midfielder Darlington Nagbe said.
After the Timbers had scored two goals in the first half through the run of play, Sal Zizzo proved that sometimes it is the men on the end of set pieces that are the most important. Taking a corner kick in Jewsbury's stead, Zizzo delivered a perfect ball to Eric Brunner, who headed in the Timbers' third goal.
"We've got a lot of leaders on this team who, in (Jewsbury's) absence, were able to put in a good performance,' Zizzo said.
Despite the uplifting win without their captain, coach John Spencer was quick to point out that the Timbers would have achieved the same result if Jewsbury had been in the lineup.
'Jack's been great for us,' Spencer said. 'He's been influential. That's why he's the skipper. I don't doubt for a minute that if he played tonight it would be the same result."
• The details of Johnson's concussion were horrifying.
Before the match, Spencer was told by his coaching staff that Johnson had been 'smashed' in the side of the head with a ball during a 5-on-5 drill.
Johnson tried to stretch and regroup on the pitch, saying, 'I've just got a little bit of a dull headache.'
When Spencer asked Johnson if he was OK to play, Johnson told him that he was.
As Johnson proceeded to the medical room, he 'took a little bit of a dizzy turn,' according to Spencer.
Timbers assistant Amos Magee told Spencer that Johnson was unable to play, and the striker was scratched from the starting lineup.
The severity of Johnson's concussion was unclear. Similar to in American football, MLS has tests that players have to pass after sustaining a concussion before they are able to play again.
•• The same way the Timbers rallied around not having Jewsbury in the lineup, striker Kenny Cooper stepped up and filled Johnson's boots. Cooper has been struggling lately. But he played his best match of the season against the Galaxy. He was aggressive with his runs, put his shots on frame and was unlucky not to have a goal.
'That was Kenny's best performance in a Portland Timbers uniform, especially in the second half,' Spencer said. 'He was dynamite.'
When he found out that he would be starting, Cooper was ready and willing to play, but also concerned about his teammate.
'I was excited to have an opportunity to get back out there and play,' Cooper said. 'But at the same time, I'm sad for my teammate and also one of my best buddies, who has done really, really well. My thoughts are with him, and hopefully he'll be back up and running really, really soon.'
The long stretch of not starting seemed to have helped Cooper develop more of a killer instinct on the attack.
'(Being aggressive) is something in particular I focus on,' he said. 'I want to be dangerous and that's my hope, that with each game I can be a threat to the other team and contribute to our team.'
••• Timbers defender Mike Chabala has quite a personality. Here are a few gems he pulled out after the Timbers' win:
Asked about his 26th-minute goal, Chabala responded: 'I blacked out.'
Asked about what he will do with the log slice he received for the goal, Chabala looked over at the cracked piece of wood next to his locker and said: 'I wanted to make a little coffee table out of it or something, but, I judo-chopped it, so I kind of broke it. So I don't know what I'll do with it.'
Asked about playing at home, Chabala responded: 'When you play at home, teams need to know what they're getting themselves into. It's not like they're going to be coming in here like, 'Oh, it's the Portland Timbers.' It's going to be, 'Oh, (expletive), we're playing Portland Timbers. God, they got a 12th man on the field with their supporters group, and on top of that, they're a bunch of hard guys out there.''
•••• Based on what he saw on the pitch Wednesday night, goalkeeper Troy Perkins - who wore the captain's armband with Jewsbury out of the lineup - was optimistic that the Timbers have turned the corner this season.
'Desire,' was the most important thing about Timbers' performance, Perkins said.
'I don't want to get ahead of myself," he said, "but we found out tonight that it takes from No. 1 all the way up to No. 99 on both sides of the ball to win. Offensively and defensively.'