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Ajax tops Timbers in beauty contest

Dutch team shows superior 'quality' in 2-0 friendly victory at Jeld-Wen Field
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Goalkeeper Jeroen Verhoeven of AFC Ajax deflects a shot by the Portland Timbers' Sal Zizzo.

The Portland Timbers never stood much of a chance of competing against an AFC Ajax football club that won its 30th Dutch league title last week.

Especially because the Timbers started only four regulars.

All the Timbers who took the pitch Wednesday night could do was try to enjoy the match, as Ajax showed just how beautiful the beautiful game can be.

With breathtaking touches and movement away from the ball, Ajax scored in the 18th and 89th minutes to win 2-0 at Jeld-Wen Field before an announced sellout crowd of 18,627.

'You get the chance to see how good their technique is, how good their first touch is, how good their awareness and movement off the ball is,' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'Their movement off the ball at times was exhilarating. I was sitting back in the dugout almost clapping at times.'

Using a 4-3-3 total football game, Ajax completely controlled the match. The Timbers' offense rarely had an opportunity to touch the ball.

'It was tough,' Timbers midfielder Ryan Pore said. 'We knew coming in that we weren't going to have much of the ball and that they were going to dominate possession.'

The Timbers' defense was under constant assault. Whether or not Ajax got off a shot, when the visitors touched the ball in the attacking third, they carved up the backline, making runs that were so lightning-fast, it looked as if the the defenders were standing still.

'They always had a guy in a hole somewhere,' Portland defender David Horst said. 'Their spacing was unbelievable. They always had an open guy. Sometimes it felt like they had 12 or 13 guys out there.'

Ajax first struck when defender Vurnon Anita played a ball to fellow defender Gregory Van Der Wiel. Van Der Wiel slid a cross through the 18-yard-box. The ball rolled on the ground past three Timbers defenders. No one made an attempt at it, and it wound up at the feet of striker Lorenzo Ebecilio. Ebecilio delivered a shot over goalkeeper Adin Brown's head, to the far post.

'It was a great play by their outside winger,' Horst said. 'He played a great cross between us and the goalie. They didn't have a man in the box. It was a guy who was behind the back post who scored it. It's a tough goal to swallow because they only had one guy out there, and he scored it. I don't want to say it was an extremely easy goal - they earned it.'

After the goal, the Timbers had their best run. It lasted for about 10 minutes. During that lax in Ajax's control, the Timbers got their best chance of the half.

In the 26th minute, Sal Zizzo sent a pass to Pore who was unmarked inside the 6-yard box. Pore turned and fired at the goal. From out of nowhere, Ajax defender Toby Alderweireld flashed in front of the goal and blocked the shot with his right foot to end the threat.

'We just kind of had to pick our chances to go forward,' Pore said. 'We did that pretty well in the first half. We created a lot of opportunities and were unfortunate not to get one in the back of the net.'

Ajax went into a holding pattern in the second half. Their control of the match was still beautiful to watch, but it was obvious they had reigned in their horses.

'They were not playing anywhere near the tempo that they can play,' Spencer said. 'They were playing in third gear tonight.

In the 58th minute, Portland had not one but two point-blank chances to score.

Pore sent a corner kick from the left side into the 6-yard-box. Horst headed the ball to his right. Eddie Johnson received the header and fired a shot from 3 yards that went off the crossbar. Portland's Peter Lowry tried to knock in the rebound, from just outside the 6-yard-box, but Ajax goalkeeper Jeroern Verhoeven was there to make a kick save.

'The ball was sitting right there,' Lowry said. 'I tried to make a play at it. I tried to do the best I could in a small space, with a lot of guys around. I did a quick turn, and all I could do was bang it with my toe. It's a bit unlucky that it didn't go in.'

Spencer had a Cheshire-cat grin on his face when he commented on Portland continuing its well-documented adroitness on plays off dead balls.

'We nearly scored off another set piece tonight against the Dutch champions,' he said.

Ajax put the nail in the coffin with a counterattack. Ebecilio found Aras Ozbiliz on the right side of the 18-yard-box. Ozbiliz made a run toward the goal and chipped a pass to Demy De Zeeuw. Unmarked, De Zeeuw let the ball bounce before turning and using a half-bicycle kick to send the ball past Brown, to the far post.

'It was a counterattack,' Brown said. 'We got caught going forward, and they hit a ball out wide. It was Ajax, beautiful football. It was unfortunate to give something like that up, but it was some pretty football. That was fun to watch.'

Spencer did not enter the friendly with any illusions of it being as important as the Timbers' next MLS match at 2 p.m. Sunday against D.C. United. He hopes that his club learned something from watching Ajax play and that it will help the Timbers as they move forward.

'You can always learn something from every situation,' Spencer said. 'I don't think we'll use it as such a gauge of where our team is compared to Ajax, because I don't think we'll play against anybody in Major League Soccer that has the quality that team had tonight. Quality, there is a gulf in difference. We know that.'