Timbers Gain First Point Under Interim Coach Wilkinson

Gavin Wilkinson
Interim Gavin Wilkinson answers questions from the media during an open Timbers’ practice.

The Gavin Wilkinson era in Portland has started off more checkered than a pair of Vans from 1982. The team had dropped four straight under the new coach and the Timbers Army let Wilkinson know after the 1-0 loss to Chivas at home last week. Chants of “Hear the people scream! Hear the people shout! Wilkinson out! Wilkinson out!” rang throughout the disgruntle group of diehard fans. Often time’s soccer supporters go well beyond the realm of compassion and mercy and last week was no different.

Wilkinson looked like a broken man walking off the pitch after the sloppy loss, his second to the lowly California side within the month. Fans yelled expletives and displayed their coaching evaluations through non-family friendly hand signals as he walked off the pitch. The Timbers seemed to be in a funk that had no end insight. This took a slight turn on Sunday however as Portland gained their first point under Wilkinson in a draw against fellow cellar-dweller, FC Dallas.

The Dallas match had much of the same feeling as the last few Timbers’ games. The Rose City side was able to generate a lot of offense but just cannot seem to finish solid runs and great crosses. Portland generated nine shots in the first half alone, but only one was even on target.

The best chance of the half came when Timbers’ leading scorer Kris Boyd was awarded a free kick from 20 yards out. The Scotsman curled the ball around the wall and forced Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman to make a sprawling save in front of the vivacious crowd. FC Dallas wasn’t without opportunity in the fist as well.

USA standout Brek Shea seemed to have eyes for goal throughout the match but his best chance came in the 16th minute. After a Fabian Castillo shot was deflected into the air, the ball fell to Shea in the middle of box. The striker unleashed a powerful shot into the chest of Troy Perkins, who once again had an admirable day in net. The half ended nil-nil as all that was exchanged was mostly hard fouls and rough play.

Portland’s Franck Songo’o and Dallas defender Zach Lloyd shared a number of vicious interactions that left both with yellow cards by the end of the half. This is bad news for Portland, as Songo’o, who has been somewhat of diamond in the rough this season, will miss the next match due to card accumulation. It was obvious that the second half would be full of fireworks, as both sides seemed to be frustrated with their level of play.

Jeld-Wen Field features one of the most prominent home-field advantages in the MLS, but fans are growing impatient.

The Timbers came into the second and played some of their best soccer of the Wilkinson era. Almost immediately after the opening to the half Portland’s offensive attack forced Hartman to make a crucial save. However, it wasn’t long before the FC Dallas counter attack raced through the depleted Timbers backline. In the 51st minute Shea sprinted past Kosuke Kimura and crossed a ball perfectly to Scott Sealy who slammed it past Perkins for his second goal of the season. Sealy ran through the box virtually unmarked as defender David Horst got caught being lazy. The familiar feeling of an oncoming loss washed over Timbers fans but hopes would turn less than a minute later.

As the Timbers tried to regroup after the goal, Lloyd, who was already riding a yellow card, took out Songo’o on an aggressive tackle that earned him his second booking. Before the referee even had a chance to pull out the red card Lloyd was walking off the pitch with a look of disbelief. The Timbers would now have roughly 40 minutes of 11-on-10 man soccer to equalize. The last time the Timbers faced a side with a man down they were unable to push a ball past Chivas and still lost.

Sunday seemed to show that this downtrodden team can learn from its mistakes as the Timbers attack finally found its feet. Over the next 30 minutes the Timbers peppered the net and Hartman who was forced to make some outstanding saves. The breakthrough finally came in the 79th minute when captain Jack Jewsbury fired a volley off a Hartman clearance.

The shot rifled past the keeper and the Timbers had finally broken a scoreless streak that had seen them go scoreless for over 370 MLS minutes. The game would end in a draw as both sides failed to capitalize in the last ten minutes of the match. Captain Jewsbury earned Man of the Match as the Timbers got their first point since July 3rd.

There were both positives and negatives to take away from Sunday’s draw for the Timbers. The number one problem being that the Timbers were unable to beat the second worst team in the West while they only played with ten men. At some point Portland needs to learn to turn up their intensity and just really take it to an opponent, especially one that had handed them their worst MLS defeat (5-0) only two weeks ago.

Wilkinson shifted the formation up today and switched to a 4-3-3 but it didn’t really seem to matter. He still has players playing out of position and it shows. Players’ making the same run, aerial passes to no one in particular and backline miscommunications are commonplace on the pitch when the Timbers play. If this doesn’t end soon, the Wilkinson era will be over before the 2013 season.

Timbers fans are anxious to see Songo’o on the pitch more. Perhaps a change in rotation could spark a new energy.

On a positive note, the Timbers defense, aside from one slothful mistake, shut down an offense that dropped 5 goals on them last time they played. On top of this Brek Shea looked like he was in the mood tonight and continually found space in the final third. Despite his creative play, the Timbers defense stopped him for the most part. Had Horst played inside Sealy on the Dallas goal the Timbers very well could’ve escaped the day with three points. Not everything that was positive was defensive however.

Franck Songo’o continues to impress with his energy and inventiveness. Throughout the match Songo’o led the team with his tenacity and was able to lead his team by example through his scuffles Zach Lloyd. If the Timbers can catch some of the fire that Songo’o displayed today they may yet be able to rattle off some wins. The playoffs seem like a far stretch right now but there’s still a lot of season left to play.

Portland will take a ten-day break before their next match with Toronto FC who is currently last in the Eastern Conference. The ten-day rest may be just what the doctor ordered for the Timbers as they are still trying to get accustomed to Wilkinson’s style of play… at least that’s what we all hope they’re trying to do….

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