SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Portland Timbers did all they could Saturday to show they won’t be expansion pushovers in their first MLS campaign. The San Jose Earthquakes are hoping their sluggish play is simply a sign that they’re ready for the urgency the regular season brings.
Eric Brunner scored for Portland in the 52nd minute and Chris Wondolowski equalized from the penalty spot for San Jose in the 69th as the Timbers and Quakes dueled to a 1-1 tie in a closed scrimmage at Buck Shaw Stadium.
It was a quality result for Portland, who also had an 82nd-minute goal from Ryan Pore – set free by a cleaving through-ball from captain Jack Jewsbury – disallowed on a very close offsides call.
“Quality-wise today, I think a tie was a good result, probably the fair result,” Portland coach John Spencer told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “If you look at the penalty kick and the offsides call, we’re disappointed not to come away with the win.”
The Timbers, who open the 2011 regular season with three consecutive road matches, look like they’ll have no problems putting together some points from that stretch after completing a 2-0-6 preseason. The back line of Portland’s 4-4-2 formation – MLS veterans Brunner and Jeremy Hall teaming with former USL-2 Timbers holdovers Steve Purdy and Kevin Goldthwaite – bore up well under the pressure of San Jose’s 4-3-3 attacking look.
[inline_node:304100]The Earthquakes made good on their promise of being more attack-minded, both in terms of trying to build up play in the midfield and at getting fullbacks Ramiro Corrales and Chris Leitch involved in the offense.
San Jose still begin a preponderance of their possessions on the left side, where Corrales was constantly making overlapping runs while Bobby Convey ducked inside.
But all the work generated only a plethora of half-chances for the Quakes, who often seemed just a step away from being truly dangerous.
It didn’t help that prior to intermission, Wondolowski wasn’t much of a factor in his new, deeper slot behind Johnson in the Quakes’ 4-3-3. After Brunner’s goal early in the second half, Yallop pushed Wondo higher, alongside Ryan Johnson, with Joey Gjertsen dropping back to right midfield in the Quakes’ more familiar 4-4-2 guise.
San Jose also responded with more alacrity, and the moves paid off when Sam Cronin was taken down recklessly from behind by Jewsbury, and Wondolowski drew the penalty after getting tangled up with Goldthwaite. Wondolowski slotted the penalty low and to his right, after correctly guessing that Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins was planning a dive in the other direction.
Quakes coach Frank Yallop said he had no doubt his team would come more ready to play on March 19, when they open by hosting Real Salt Lake.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that we can play better than that,” Yallop said. “We’ve proved that. That’s not our regular performance. We’ve played a lot better. We’ll get a measuring stick next weekend, and I think we’ll be fine.”
As for Portland, it’s off to Colorado on Saturday.
“I think we proved that we can keep clean sheets,” Spencer said. “I think we proved that we’re hard to break down at times. We feel that we’ve got some pieces on our team that can create and take chances and score chances. People are making a big deal of being on the road for the first three games. I think you can either make an excuse about it or stand up and be counted and ready to do something about it.
Forward Jorge Perlaza, officially signed by Portland this week, generated some dangerous chances in the first half for the Timbers but disappeared in the second.
Sal Zizzo came off in the 39th minute after suffering what appeared to be a right shoulder injury upon being taken down by Corrales. He was replaced by Brian Umony.
San Jose defender Chris Leitch was sent off on a straight red for dissent in the 73rd minute when he jawed for several minutes with the referee regarding a hard foul delivered on Johnson. The Quakes did not play a man down, however; Steven Beitashour replaced Leitch, who was a late starter in place of Tim Ward, held out as a precautionary measure with a tight hamstring.
The Quakes kept more possession thanks to their 4-3-3, but there were times when the team seemed disjointed while playing the ball back to holding midfielder Sam Cronin. That led to several turnovers which set up Portland with scoring chances – something Yallop said would have to be cleaned up this week.
POR – Brunner (Jewsbury) 52
SJ – Wondolowski (PK) 69
POR – Lowry (caution) 49
POR – Jewsbury (caution) 67
SJ – Leitch (ejection) 73
SJ – Hernandez (caution) 84
Portland – Troy Perkins; Steve Purdy, Eric Brunner, Kevin Goldthwaite, Jeremy Hall; Sal Zizzo (Brian Umony 39), Peter Lowry (Kalif Alhassan 60), Jack Jewsbury, Ryan Pore; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza
San Jose – Jon Busch; Chris Leitch (Steven Beitashour 73), Jason Hernandez, Brandon McDonald, Ramiro Corrales; Sam Cronin, Chris Wondolowski, Khari Stephenson; Joey Gjertsen, Ryan Johnson (Ellis McLoughlin 73), Bobby Convey
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes