By Eric Schulte
Saturday’s season finale wasn’t too focused on the squads competing; the match was a chance for Earthquake’s striker Chris Wondolowski to produce MLS history. With a near perfect penalty kick at the 24th minute mark, San Jose’s Wondolowski tied Roy Lassiter’s single-season record of 27 goals. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on the crowd, as Jeld-Wen stadium roared into appreciative ovation at the striker’s top-class season. After the penalty however, Timbers’ players dug down and competed with stingy, bend-don’t-break defense.
The Earthquakes opening salvo came off a penalty in the box, when Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts tackled striker Steven Lenhart. Ricketts was drawn far off his line, and at that distance tried a do-or-die slide tackle that caught just enough contact for Lenhart to go down. However, not everyone in the stadium was impressed by Wondolowski’s mark.
“It doesn’t make me feel better at all. I didn’t want Wondo to tie the record. I didn’t want him to beat it,” said Portland defender David Horst to media after the match.
After the 24th minute strike, the Portland Timbers rushed to establish defensive presence. The San Jose offense, with Wondolowski hungry for his record breaker, stuttered for the rest of the first half. By halftime the Timber’s staunch defense began producing better offense. With pace and patience the Timbers offense slowly began chipping away during second half play. Portland’s Diego Chara played especially keen soccer, keeping up good off-ball movement and drawing several fouls to put pressure on San Jose’s back four.
Then, in the 67th minute, Portland pulled up even. Bright Dike kept his calm when he found himself one on one with San Jose keeper Jon Busch. Dike’s first shot blocked off Busch’s extended hands. The ball rolled fortuitously into Dike’s continued running path, and he cleaned up the rebound with an easily taken ground shot into the back right corner. For the Timbers, this type of comeback win is just the kind of encouraging sign for the transition into next season.
“I thought the guys did a great job on Wondolowski. It says a lot about our character. There was a point this season when we’d get scored on and kind of shut down, and we were out of it the rest of the game,” Horst said to media after the match.
The San Jose Earthquakes now advance into the playoffs with the best record in MLS, and on a nine-game unbeaten run. Because of their record, the Quakes will first play the winner of the Western Conference knockout round, either the L.A. Galaxy or Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Portland Timbers go into the 2012-2013 offseason on something of a positive note. After a season of challenging setbacks, the Portland Timbers managed to pull off the consolatory Cascadia Cup. Saturday’s defensive draw against the MLS best San Jose Earthquakes doesn’t hurt the teams’ confidence either. The Timbers open up next season with new Head Coach Caleb Porter; an exciting change for a roster in need of some spark.
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