Valencia 1-0 victors at Jeld-Wen Field
The Portland Timbers had little more than a puncher's chance Wednesday night in a friendly against Valencia of Spain's La Liga.
The Timbers never wereable to land a knockout punch, but Portland went down swinging. And, with Valencia taking on the role of a good sparring partner who does not wish to embarrass his opponent, the Timbers lost by a respectable 1-0 margin before an announced crowd of 19,564 at Jeld-Wen Field.
The talent level between the two clubs was clearly much more than the one-goal outcome. But Timbers coach John Spencer said Valencia should have been much better than Portland.
'Everybody always thinks from afar that you can go and coach in Europe, that you can go and play in Europe,' Spencer said. 'But it's a different level completely. And it should be because they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their playing staff. Our league is only 15, 16 years old, and we've got a long way to go. With the investment they're making in Europe, there should be a huge difference.'
The Timbers did well in the first half. Portland's offense rose to the challenge of playing against a back line of superior quality. The Timbers' attackers did not have the technical ability to give Valencia much trouble, but Portland pressed the tempo and worked hard to put Valencia under pressure with eight first-half shots.
Valencia's defense was very sound, though, and the defenders were able to stop many runs that, in MLS matches, might have turned into goals.
'They're smart,' Timbers striker Mike Fucito said. 'They pick their times where they give you the space to let you think that you have the shot and then they come in last minute and get a touch on it.'
The technical ability of Valencia's offense, meanwhile, was sharp and cutting. Like the mythical Samurai swords that have the ability to slice off a limb just by touching skin and applying pressure, Valencia dissected the Timbers' defense. The Spanish side's passes never seemed to leave the turf. Instead, the passes glided along, impossibly perfect and impossibly well-placed between defenders.
'Their positioning was excellent,' said Portland defender David Horst, who made his first appearance this season after offseason hip surgery. 'The guys find those little holes to get into, then the other guys can find them there.'
The Timbers defense was able to hold Valencia in check for the first 40 minutes with several fantastic efforts in the back.
'It was just good communication,' Horst said. 'It was a lot of communication and a lot of covering and we did a great job.'
Still, with the way Valencia was moving in the attacking third, it was clear that it was just a matter of time before the Timbers were forced to dig the ball out of the back of the net.
'We got a real good introduction to European possession football,' Spencer said. 'Movement off the ball, movement from wide areas and inside channels to receive the ball - and it shows that when you don't communicate and you ball-watch, you can get picked off at the highest level.
"There was certainly some quality football played by them in the first half.'
In the 41st minute, Valencia striker Aritz Aduriz took the ball at the top of the 18-yard box. Aduriz took a touch, found his way between three Timbers defenders and gave himself just enough room to fire an 18-yard shot. The ball went low and hard to the bottom left corner, giving Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins no chance to make a save.
'They got themselves in good positions,' Horst said. 'They got a shot off, and he placed it at the side of the net, and there was nothing we could really do about it. It was a top, top finish.'
Trailing 1-0, the Timbers made several substitutions in the second half. The rhythm and pace set by the starters faded.
But Valencia took its foot off the gas on offense during the second half and allowed Portland to control much of the action.
Valencia midfielder David Albelda said that while his side took the match seriously, after the La Liga season ended 15 days ago, the team was content to coast in for a victory on Wednesday.
'We thought that by maintaining control of the ball during the game it was just going to be less of an effort for us, so we tried to do that,' Albelda said, through a translator. 'However, it was very difficult for us to do that in the second half because they made a bigger effort for us and it was a little harder for us to control the game.'
The Timbers had their chances to score in the second half, outshooting Valencia 7-5 (Portland outshot Valencia 15-10 overall). But the Timbers never had enough quality on the finish.
Striker Bright Dike, back in Portland for the night after being loaned to the Los Angeles Blues of the USL PRO League, had the team's best opportunities.
In the 75th minute, Dike broke free on a run and fired a shot a good 20 feet over the crossbar. Then, in the 84th minute, Dike powered his way into the box while maintaining possession, but his shot, from 8 yards, bounced off Portland striker Brent Richards and was redirected out of bounds.
'You kind of look back and you're like, 'Man, almost had one,'' Dike said. 'I had one where it hit over the crossbar, and I had another where it hit Brent's arm or back, and that one was going in the back of the net.'
Valencia walked off the pitch feeling that the 1-0 outcome was just but understanding that had Portland converted its chances, the match easily could have ended in a draw.
'The end result was fair,' Albelda said. 'However, it could have been a tie because they just made it really difficult for us and they had their chances, so we're really happy with the result.'
On Saturday, the Timbers will face the Vancouver Whitecaps in a Cascadia Cup rivalry match. What can Portland take from Wednesday's friendly into Saturday's derby match?
'Nothing,' Spencer said. 'Nothing whatsoever. It has no relevance to the game on Saturday.'
Still, it was fun for the Timbers to be able to step onto the same pitch as a topflight European side.
'Getting the chance to see a top, top European club up close was a very good experience for the coaching staff,' Spencer said. 'It was a very good experience for the players.'