'Blue moon' goal at finish gives West Bromwich friendly win 3-2
For 45 minutes on Wednesday, the Portland Timbers played marvelous soccer against West Bromwich Albion FC.
With a 2-0 lead going to halftime, Portland appeared poised to pull off a massive upset against the English Premier League side that would be talked about for years to come.
Things came crashing down around the Timbers and the announced sellout crowd of 18,627 at Jeld-Wen Field in the second half, though.
West Brom scored three times, including a goal in the 90th minute, to defeat the Timbers 3-2 and prevent the friendly from going to a shootout.
'For a good period of time tonight we were the best team on the field,' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'But you just see that experience and the power (of West Bromwich) coming through near the end.'
The Timbers began the match controlling the pace and the tempo, while West Bromwich (nicknamed the Baggies and also the Throstles) looked as though it was running in water.
In the 26th minute, Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe took the ball in the middle of the pitch just outside the 18-yard box. Nagbe used the outside of his right foot to flick the ball to Eddie Johnson, who was inexplicably unmarked on the right side. Johnson took a touch and sent a low 15-yard shot to the far post, just under West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill.
'We had some good play down the right-hand side,' Johnson said. 'And Darlington came down the middle and found me with a great ball. I touched it on my feet and went hard and low across the goalkeeper, and it was a good finish.'
Just three minutes later, the Timbers went up 2-0 on a glorious strike from midfielder Peter Lowry.
Sal Zizzo had the ball in the attacking third and forced the Baggies defense to collapse on him. He sent a pass to the left side, where Lowry was standing all alone. Lowry gathered himself and sent a bullet of a left-footed shot filled with cobra venom to the far post, leaving Myhill with no chance.
'They went to Sal,' Lowry said. 'He was coming down the middle and you know how he goes - he's a million miles an hour. And he just laid one off to me. I just took a touch and saw a space and made good contact, and it went in.'
Lowry said he has never hit a harder shot with his left foot.
In the second half, West Brom finally began playing like a club that wanted and deserved to be on the pitch.
'The second half, we realized that the best way to win a football match is to pass the ball to players on our team and not the opposition,' West Bromwich coach Roy Hodgson said. 'That was one of the major things.'
The Throstles attacked the Portland goal, putting more pressure on the Timbers than they could handle.
In the 64th minute, Timbers substitute Brian Umony challenged West Brom's Jerome Thomas for the ball inside the penalty box. Umony made slight contact with Thomas, who went down, earning West Brom a penalty kick.
The PK was wasted when James Morrison sent his shot several yards wide to the right.
It took Morrison less than a minute to redeem himself. He took a pass from Youssouf Mulumbu on the right side and made a short run, splitting defender Steve Purdy and Lowry. He got off a 16-yard shot that sneaked past goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, to the far post. Gleeson had replaced Adin Brown at halftime.
Just three minutes later, West Brom found the equalizer, as Portland's backline crumbled.
Striker Ishmael Miller sent a rainbow pass into the 18-yard box behind the Timbers defenders. Midfielder Somen Tchoyi flashed to the high bouncing ball. With an open look at the net, Tchoyi did not bother taking a touch. He lifted his leg almost as high as it would go and knocked a shot past Gleeson, to the far post.
'(Miller) volleyed it into the ground, and they're always very, very, difficult ones when he hits it into the ground and it bounces high over (the defenders),' Spencer said.
The Throstles continued peppering the Timbers goal. They sent two shots off the near post and one of the crossbar, but they just lacked enough devil in their finish to put the ball in the back of the net.
In the 90th minute, though, West Brom avoided a shootout with a wonderful and unlikely strike that caught the Timbers defense sleeping.
Gabriel Tamas made a run down the middle of the pitch. Portland failed to close down on him, giving Tamas an open look at goal from 25 yards.
Tamas sent a twisting, knuckleball shot just off center to the right. Gleeson got a hand on the ball, but it was not enough.
'I was right behind it, and it was almost like a balloon had been popped because the ball went four or five different ways,' Spencer said. '(It was) a good enough goal to win a World Cup final, let alone an exhibition game in Portland.'
It was a brilliant way for West Bromwich to end the match - and a heartbreaker for the Timbers.
'It was a marvelous game of football,' Hodgson said. 'Luckily, a 2-2 was transformed into a 3-2 with such a magnificent strike at the end of the game. A strike like that deserves to win any game. If it was scored against my team, I would've felt a bit hard done by it because those strikes you see once in a blue moon. Today was a blue moon day for us.'