Portland reserves tested in USOC loss to San Jose

PORTLAND, Ore. – The big picture dictated that the Timbers would have been foolish to play their first-string unit during Tuesday’s US Open Cup play-in game against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sandwiched between home matches against Real Salt Lake and the Philadelphia Union six days apart, Portland chose the MLS regular season contest as the higher priority. The US Open qualifier, then, proved to be the perfect opportunity to play the reserves.

The result – a stinging 1-0 loss with the Quakes’ winner coming in the 120th minute – was a bitter pill to swallow. It was the first Timbers loss at JELD-WEN Field.

Yet from a competitive standpoint, a lineup of mostly reserves played an Earthquakes lineup that included Chris Wondolowski and a handful of other starters evenly through 119 minutes.

Head coach John Spencer trusted his reserves to win the game and there were some opportunities to make that result happen. Regardless, the players who saw action were grateful for the chance to take the field.

“I think it brings the unit together a little bit closer,” Timbers defender Kevin Goldthwaite said. “It’s kind of tough when you’re on the bench or in the stands for games. You don’t necessarily feel a part of everything. Guys who haven’t gotten a majority of the minutes got a chance to get in, to play in front of Timbers Army, and I think it creates a better environment for everybody.”

There are precious few nights that will allow the Timbers to build depth and evaluate the second string to the extent they were able to on Tuesday.

“I think there were a lot of positives, a lot of guys getting playing time,” forward Ryan Pore said. “Ultimately, we didn’t do what we expected to do and get a win, but it was good experience for a lot of guys.”

Three Timbers players – Freddie Braun, Rodrigo Lopez and Spencer Thompson – have never played a minute in MLS.

Thompson, a rookie out of UC Irvine, did score twice in an MLS reserve game against the LA Galaxy. But Tuesday’s game was his most meaningful as a professional. In the frantic couple of minutes after Ike Opara’s goal, Thompson had a final crack at an equalizer for Portland. After a Timbers corner kick, Pore passed to Thompson, who fired from 20 yards away. The ball, though, sailed into the Timbers Army section.
   
“I had some good moments and I had some not-so-good moments,” Thompson said. “I’ve just got to improve. That’s what I’m here to do.”

The defensive lapse at the end – whether a result of fatigue or lack of concentration – prevented the game from going to a penalty-kick shootout. Goldthwaite thought the Timbers could have taken control of the game much earlier.

“We were creating chances,” he said. “It was unlucky for us not to get one [goal].”