Caleb Porter's Portland Timbers team played a soccer game, not a rock concert, with the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday night, but it didn't stop the Timbers head coach from using the words "mosh pit" to describe his opponents' style of play.
And in the end, that was the undoing for the Timbers as they missed a chance to secure their first-ever three-game winning streak in MLS after a stoppage-time goal by San Jose’s Adam Jahn led to a 1-1 draw in the second straight game between the two Western Conference rivals. The late-game heroics stemmed from, of all things, a long ball by San Jose’s Jon Busch that bounced around in the area before Chris Wondolowski teed up Jahn to bang home the equalizer.
It was just the type of long-ball, crash-and-bang style of play that Porter said prevented his team from getting into their normal possession rhythm to salt away a 58th-minute 1-0 lead.
“They try to create stuff off making it a mosh pit, and they’re very good at it, very good,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “They’re the best team in the league at it. And over 90 minutes, you have to be up for it and roll your sleeves up.”
In the teams’ first meeting last week in Portland, the Timbers kept the offensive pressure on even after going up 1-0 in the 78th minute and played to a season-high 64.7-percent possession rate.
But after Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri put his team on top with his second goal of the season, San Jose got Portland on their back foot by playing ball after ball into the final third in the cozy confines of Buck Shaw Stadium. And Portland finished with a season-low 50.6-percent possession rate.
“I thought there were times when we could have controlled it a little bit better,” Porter said. “It’s tough, when they’re hitting it long all game … It’s hard to settle the game down and find much rhythm when you play San Jose. They’re a team that makes it choppy.”
For more than 90 minutes, however, Portland’s defense, which had posted clean sheets in their previous two games, was up to the task. They weathered 12 San Jose shots and nine corner kicks behind superb work from goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who recorded four saves.
“When they’re throwing so many numbers forward and being reckless, you have to stay with them,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said.
Despite the sting of three points slipping through their fingers, the Timbers are still forging new ground. They’re the only team in MLS still unbeaten on the road – albeit with three draws. This is from a team that lost 12 times on the road last year and earned just five results (one win).
And the point sees the Timbers jump into fourth place in the standings with 10 points from seven games. Still, there was little celebration from the Timbers locker room.
“Obviously you feel like you just lost a game,” Johnson said. “This isn’t a team isn’t going to be satisfied with just points on the road, we want to win.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.