CARSON, Calif. – Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch called it a good, physical match.
His Portland Timbers counterpart, John Spencer, had a different description for Friday’s 0-0 draw at the Home Depot Center.
“It depends when you’re talking about physical – beating the [hell] out of us is more like it,” Spencer said to the gathered reporters after the final whistle had blown. “But ... once the game settled down, it actually turned into a decent game.”
The Timbers are used to giving as good as they get when it comes to across the board physicality, but for the first 30 minutes or so, the Impact cranked it up to 11. Josh Gardner came in high and late twice. Davy Arnaud did the same. And Patrice Bernier was a one-man wrecking crew, repeatedly breaking the rhythm of the makeshift Portland central midfield duo of Khalif Alhassan and James Marcelin.
It ended up producing a scrappy, hard-fought affair short on chances and long on bad blood. And by Spencer’s reckoning, that’s a good thing – it’s what preseason is for.
“I thought it was pretty even, to be honest with you. It was an even type of game,” Spencer explained. “I thought they were a lot more, as I said, a lot more aggressive at times – too aggressive at times – but I think we handled ourselves pretty well. They’ve obviously got the expansion tag and they’re looking to prove they’re as good as MLS teams, so they’ve got a little bit about them, but I was pretty happy with the performance.”
While Portland allowed few gaps – Montreal were only dangerous in short bursts, usually through Sanna Nyassi – they struggled to generate offense of any sort. The forward pairing of Bright Dike and Jorge Perlaza, who were so effective in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the LA Galaxy, couldn’t get on the same page and looked a step behind the play throughout.
Alhassan, meanwhile, often showed his skill on the ball, but struggled to show in possession and make himself the hub.
“We’re weeks away from the season,” Spencer said when asked about shifting Alhassan into a central role. “A lot of things can happen from now to the start of the season – injuries, et cetera, so Khalif’s played in there before with the youth national team, so I was just having a look at him.”
Cameroonian trialist Frank Songo’o came on for the second 45 minutes. He spent time on both wings, but failed to have the same type of influence that made him Man of the Match against the Galaxy earlier in the week.
The most effective Portland attacker on the day was midfielder Eric Alexander, who lined up at left midfield in the second half and was consistently dangerous when cutting inside.
“He’s a really good soccer player,” Spencer said. “That’s why we brought him here last year, and were delighted to get him. I’ve always said that we’ve seen the best of him coming this year, and if he keeps on continuing with the form he’s in right now, he’ll be a player to be reckoned with.”