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'Toughest' loss of the year for Timbers

by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall knocks the ball away from the Portland Timbers' Jorge Perlaza. Houston scored once in each half to beat the Timbers 2-0 in a key MLS late-season match Friday night at Jeld-Wen Field.

Six months ago to the day, the Portland Timbers had played their first MLS match at Jeld-Wen Field.

That night, in the pouring rain, the Timbers defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2.

Half a year later, in their final home match of the season, again in the pouring rain, the Timbers fell 2-0 to the Houston Dynamo in a must-win match.

The Timbers (11-14-7, 40 points) are in 11th place with two matches remaining. Portland no longer controls its destiny, though. Trailing the New York Red Bulls by three points and the Columbus Crew by four points, the Timbers will have to hope that other clubs can help them out by beating Columbus and New York and knocking at least one of them out of the last two wild-card spots for the 10-team playoffs.

No loss this season was harder for the Timbers to swallow.

'This is the toughest one all year,' defender Lovel Palmer said. 'We were so close. We were so close we could feel it. Getting three points or a point tonight would've been massive for us. You lose a game that is a must-win game, it's like the finals and the season is over.'

For the first 20 minutes, the Timbers and the Dynamo circled each other like prize fighters, throwing light jabs, testing the other's range and power.

The Timbers never stopped circling and throwing jabs, though. Portland had only two shots on goal during the match, one in the first half and another in the second half.

'We never came out and started with the zest and the enthusiasm and the mobility that I expected us to, which was a little disappointing,' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'We were basically playing in third gear, second gear.'

By the 20th minute, the Dynamo (11-9-13, 46 points) began free swinging. And the match turned even more physical. Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury was thrown into the air like a rag doll several times as he ran into Dynamo players.

In the 23rd minute, the Dynamo dodged a bullet. Portland's Sal Zizzo went down in the box. The Houston defender got both Zizzo and the ball, and referee Baldomero Toledo did not blow the whistle.

'I felt like I might have poked the ball first,' Zizzo said. 'But I do know he came in pretty hard and definitely got me after he got the ball.'

The Timbers were not so fortunate on foul calls.

In the 35th minute, Palmer went for a tackle on Dynamo striker Carlo Costly. Palmer got both the ball and the man, and was whistled for the foul.

'I got all the ball,' Palmer said. 'The referee, he saw something different. He made the call. It's just the way the game is. He's got a job to do, and he thought he did what he thought was best.'

Houston's Brad Davis lined up for a free kick from 25 yards out on the left side. Davis hit a strike at the near post. Andre Hainault redirected the ball with a header that beat Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins to the near post.

'We got punished on the free kick,' Palmer lamented. 'We paid the cost for (the foul).'

In the 51st minute, Chabala went down in a heap after taking a blow to the head from Houston's Danny Cruz, who ran into him. Chabala laid on the ground for more than a minute. When he stood up, he looked unsteady and woozy, but he wanted to stay in the match.

'With my head, if you're not bleeding to death and I think I can go then I'm going to go,' Chabala said. 'If I don't think I can contribute and help my team then I'm going to put my hand up and say I need to come off the field.

The Dynamo attacked Chabala and went up 2-0 on a breathtaking missile of a goal by Cruz in the 59th minute.

Cruz took a pass from Luiz Carmargo 40 yards out on the right side. Chabala gave Cruz a soft cushion. Before Chabala could close down on him, Cruz took a touch and blasted a left-footed shot from 38 yards. The ball seemed to be connected to an invisible magician's fishing line. It moved like a knuckleball, but stayed on frame and beat Perkins to the top left corner.

'It starts off, that ball is moving everywhere,' Perkins said. 'It starts off over the goal and then all of a sudden as it gets closer it starts dipping. It's just moving and moving and (when) the ball is wet the ball moves more.

"It's just a finish of a lifetime.'

The Timbers were then forced to start chasing the match. Portland pulled Chabala for David Horst. Palmer moved up to a midfield position, leaving the Timbers with three defenders and five midfielders.

'When you're down 2-0, you have to force it,' said striker Bright Dike, who substituted into the match in the 74th minute. 'It's not necessarily how you'd play the whole game. You just have to force things and make runs, bombing over the top, a lot of crosses, a lot of balls in behind. And we just couldn't pull any through.'

Spencer was visibly disgusted that Toledo did not go to the book on any of the Dynamo players for taking away chances as the Timbers pressed up the pitch.

'I was disappointed in the second half when there were like eight or nine tactical fouls in a row where we were breaking and the referee never pulls a yellow card,' Spencer said. 'It was like (20 Dynamo) fouls to (10 Timbers fouls). And nine in a row came in the second period of the game, when we're trying to press on and we're breaking away.

'We're getting behind the midfield players and they're just pulling us down. And the ref was more concerned with drawing his little fancy designs on the field (for free kicks) at times. I was absolutely bemused by his decisions at times.'

With their destiny out of their hands, the Timbers will go into 5 p.m PT Wednesday's match against D.C. United and Saturday's 6 p.m. PT match against Real Salt Lake hoping to earn maximum points - and praying other sides around the league can help them out.

'Hopefully, the rest of the games go in our favor,' Palmer said. 'If not, we just have to come back next season and keep the hard work going.'