Last night the timbers were introduced to a Chivas side improved from the earlier encounter in May when Portland put a 3-0 beating on them. Instead, the Timbers faced a Chivas side that looked adept in possession, able to move the ball effortless across the pitch while shielding it well from Diego Chara's and Will Johnson's inconsistent moments of harassment.
The addition of Torres and De la Fuente to a side mired in xenophobic controversy might do little to impress the league that the club does not hold politically incorrect designs for player development, but their inclusion does impress upon teams that they are no longer the league's patsy—an honor obviously handed to Toronto. Last night the Timbers fielded the same side, with the exception of Donovan Ricketts, they fielded against Toronto last weekend. Whether the week long lay-off was too much time, or the disparity between the Western division's worst team and the Eastern division's worst team is so great that it brings into further question the legitimacy of the unbalanced schedule, the Timbers did not get the result they did against Toronto.
Still comparisons can be drawn. As they did against Toronto, the Timbers were sluggish and unimpressive in the first half. Their typical desire to get forward and create opportunities was supplanted by tentative play and errors in communication. The right side of the attack was guilty of wasteful play and was not assisted by De la Fuente and Borja, who forced 13 turnovers on that side in the first 45 minutes of play. Needless to say, Sal Zizzo and Kalif did not work well together.
Zizzo had his second start of the year and in a position, though he may claim to enjoy, he has not yet adapted to the physical demands and tactical adjustments from right wing to right back. He did well enough in the defensive end, though with a couple hiccups, but in the attacking half he turned the ball over 30 times—he was tackled and lost possession 16 times and made 14 unsuccessful passes.
Similarly, Kalif had a nightmare. If the last two games have been an indication of how far Kalif has grown as a player, last night was a reminder of just how ineffectual he can be. He was pulled at half for the talisman, Diego Valeri, and given the slim numbers on offense there was no question why. At the end of the first half, the Timber had 1 attempt on goal and that was off target. Unlike against Toronto, Kalif did little to impose himself on the game. He may have run around the pitch, however the physical nature of play and the treatment he received from Borja, Minda, and De la Fuente contributed to his unwillingness to take the game to opponent, though not as greatly as his tendency to shrink in moments of need. He had 19 turnovers in the 45 minutes he played and did little to create opportunities for his teammates.
And it was his failure to make a physical challenge that led to the Chivas goal in the 22 minute. Well, that really is not fair. After failing to intercept a mid-field switch to Minda, Kalif pulled off the play rather than chasing down the Borja and Minda on the left wing. He stuck into the center of the pitch, and gave significant space for the Borja to square up a superb cross into the 18 yard box. And that is where his liability ended and where the three bodies marking, but not guarding, De la Fuente take responsibility for the goal. The Timbers two centerbacks were between De la Fuente and the goal and Chara was in front of the Chivas winger. Not one defender put a body on De la Fuente to disrupt his balance on a cross worthy of challenge. Just a nudge, a touch, even shoulder into the player would have been enough to prevent the goal. Instead, the three markers gave him a 2-3 foot ring to rise and redirect Borja's cross for goal.
The levels of culpability can be stretched among several players, but the fact remains the Timbers still have not learned how to deal with crosses into the 18 yard box. Had they done their lessons, practiced their positioning, or just plain cared to prevent De la Fuente getting a head on the ball, that goal would not have happened.
The second half saw the ineffectual Kalif replaced by a vibrant Diego Valeri. Though he made a similar number of turnovers as Kalif, the difference in where the turnovers took place is the argument why the change in approach occurred. Unlike Kalif, Valeri's turnovers did not occur on the wing in interplay between midfield and defense, his turnovers happened while he was probing the Chivas defense as he looked to unleash Valencia and the Rod Wall. The difference between losing the ball in the center third of the pitch rather than the final third is a significance that cannot be overlooked—it's the transformation from giving Chivas the opportunity to counterattack and keeping the ball in Chivas's half of the pitch. That transformation cannot be more aptly evidenced than by the fact at the end of the first half the Timbers had 1 attempt on goal and that at the end of the match the Timbers had 12. When a team turns over the ball in midfield they do not create the opportunities on goal.
The one opportunity that mattered most to the game's result occurred in the 49 minute. The tempo of the game had immediately increased with Valeri's inclusion, and the pressure the Timbers had placed Chivas under was noticeable. The action had transitioned from the middle third of the pitch to the attacking third and Chivas really looked under the kosh. After shaking off Minda's illegal rugby tackle, Valeri pushed forward into the attacking third under the called advantage before dumping the ball wide to Diego Chara. Chara put in a low cross that found the Rod Wall at the top of the 6 yard box, lined with 6 defenders. Rod Wall left the ball for Valencia, who backed his into the defensive line before pushing the ball back to Diego Valeri. Valeri punced on the ball and drilled it past Dan Kennedy to draw the Timbers even. And that is how the game would end.
Sometimes 1-1 games are incredibly exciting. This game was anything but fun to watch—it was rife with defensive errors, physical play intended to disrupt the flow of the game, which resulted in few opportunities for either side. Much of this can be attributed to the balance of the side—the central defensive pairing was pulled apart by the deficiencies on the right side of the Timbers formation. But even more problematic was the inability of the central-midfield pairing to assert itself against a clearly inferior counterpart. The assistance provided by the dual pivot roles, held by Johnson and Chara, in developing channels of play and distribution was muted in comparison to other outings this season. They were both subdued in their influence and looked off the pace of the game.