BEAVERTON, Ore. – It was one of the principle highlights of Jack Jewsbury’s laudable 11-year MLS career.
It was 2004, and Jewsbury’s then-Kansas City Wizards were heading into the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals of the MLS Cup playoffs trailing the San Jose Earthquakes by two goals in the aggregate.
In the memorable game at Arrowhead Stadium, a first-half goal by Kansas City rookie Khari Stephenson gave the Wizards life. Then a second-half own goal by San Jose’s Brian Ching appeared to have the game destined for extra time.
But Jewsbury, then in his second professional season out of St. Louis University, became the unlikely hero with a thrilling stoppage-time goal that sent his team to the MLS Cup final. Now Jewsbury’s Portland Timbers are in the same situation after their 4-2 loss to Real Salt Lake last Sunday in the first leg of the Westerm Conference Championship at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I just remember once we were in the game and we were able to get a goal in the first half, I think that obviously changes the game because a two-goal lead is a tough one, you feel pretty confident about where you’re at,” Jewsbury said, recalling that game in a conversation with MLSsoccer.com after Monday’s training session at the team facility. “But you get the first one and the mindset changes on both sides.”
Even though Jewsbury said there hasn’t been much talk of the major hurdle the Timbers face heading into Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN Field (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes) and nor are his teammates asking about that game in 2004, he did say he sees a lot of similarities in the two groups in how they’re approaching the challenge.
“It’s a very similar locker room in terms of there’s just a belief within the group,” Jewsbury said. “Nobody is really talking about what a big surprise it would be if we were able to overcome it. … It was a very hard working honest team; it really does remind me of this group, a very humble group and a group that was successful throughout the year. And it does have some mirror images of what this team stands for.”
And Jewsbury may very well again play a key role if the Timbers are able to match what the Wizards accomplished nine years ago. The right back has two assists in the playoffs after recording just one in the regular season.
He said it’s been a combination of better balls into the box on his part, timed with good runs and the defense collapsing on Portland’s dangerous playmakers in the middle of the field, most notably Darlington Nagbe.
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“We have enough guys in the final third and our front four and five guys that they can create their own chances. If there’s an opportunity to get forward and get some balls in and create some chances, obviously I want to do that,” Jewsbury said of his assists, which included the cross that set up the Timbers’ key second goal in stoppage time against RSL.
And in a game where the Timbers will look to be on their front foot all night, sending big numbers forward could mean another scenario for Jewsbury heroics.
“It’s a fine line because you want to push forward and create chances," he said, "but at the end of the day, your first role is to stop them from scoring and keeping a clean sheet."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.