Timbers Notebook: Defense shutting down top scorers
PORTLAND, Ore. — MLS scoring leaders take note: When playing the Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field these days, expect a tough go of it.
In consecutive matches at JELD-WEN this month, premier goal-hounds Landon Donovan and Eric Hassli have left empty-handed as their teams fell to the Timbers. That’s a big change from earlier in the season when Brek Shea and Thierry Henry — the other guys at the top of the scoring chart — each bagged a goal in Portland.
Donovan, who is second in MLS with 11 goals, was kept without a shot attempt in Portland’s 3-0 victory over the Galaxy on Aug. 3.
And in the Timbers’ 2-1 win this past Saturday over the Vancouver Whitecaps, Hassli, who has 10 goals, managed two shots on goal, albeit both were relatively harmless and handled easily by goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
“I thought our two central defenders handled him for most of the game and they eventually subbed him out,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said of his team’s defensive work against Hassli. “I think Futty [Danso] and [David] Horst played well, and we did what we had up until the goal.”
Hassli was clearly frustrated — throwing his hands up in exasperation several times — as his teammates struggled to provide him with clean service from midfield. Spencer called the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Frenchman the best “big man” in the league with “unbelievable power.”
“He’s one of the top forwards in the league,” Horst said. “I think the back four and the whole team did a fantastic job with Hassli.”
Making Portland’s performance against Hassli all the more impressive was the fact that it was done largely without defensive mainstay Eric Brunner.
The central defender, who had started all of the 22 games in which he has appeared, was given a rest by Spencer with Danso starting in his place. Danso ended up going 76 minutes before being subbed off with an injury, leaving Brunner to clean up for the final quarter-hour.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe, also a regular starter, was given the game off in favor of Kalif Alhassan.
The Vancouver match was Portland’s third game in six days.
“We’ve played a lot of games recently,” Spencer said. “I just felt that Darlington was getting a little heavy-legged. We just felt that after the two games it was time to bring Kalif back in. Young players struggle to find consistency. There's not many young players around the world that come in in their first year and play every single game. We just felt that it was time to freshen up the group a little bit.
“I thought [Danso] did well until he got his injury and then Eric Brunner comes in and performs well. I’m very proud of the group. It was a great team effort.”
Top turnout for Reserves
There was nothing minor about the Portland Timbers' reserves match on Sunday against Vancouver. The day after the Timbers recorded their 15th sellout at JELD-WEN Field, the Reserve game drew an impressive 10,077 fans in a 3-2 Portland victory.
Through three MLS Reserve League matches at JELD-WEN Field, the Timbers have drawn a total of 14,859 fans, an average of 4,953 per game.