By MIKE DONOVAN
In a match befitting of Portland’s 2014 season, the Timbers dominated at times while also having major defensive lapses before salvaging a result late.
The San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers played to a 3-3 draw, Sunday afternoon at Providence Park. Chris Wondolowski’s brace led the way with Cordell Cato adding a goal for San Jose. Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, and Kalif Alhassan had the goals for the Timbers with Diego Valeri chipping in with three assists.
Wondolowski seemed to have the winner five minutes from full-time when he found himself unmarked for the second time in the match and powerfully headed past a helpless Ricketts. Including his hat trick for the U.S. National team in 2013, it was Wondolowski’s sixth goal in his last four matches at Providence Park.
Moments after Wondolowski’s go-ahead goal, the Timbers answered yet again when Kalif Alhassan scored his first goal of the season after tight footwork in San Jose’s box. The Ghanaian took a touch off a Powell pass and sent the Timbers Army into delirium. Valeri sprung Powell on the buildup and was credited with his third assist of the match.
Coming off a 3-0 victory at rival Vancouver, the Timbers were unable to replicate their away form in front of the home faithful.
“It’s the same old story,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “Every time we seem to take a step forward, we take a step backwards the next week.”
Despite forcing six saves from Busch in the first 15 minutes, the Timbers were unable to capitalize on their constant early chances. Liam Ridgewell almost gave Portland the lead when his header seemed destined for the net, only to be denied by the San Jose goalkeeper.
The early onslaught was a preview of what was to come as the Timbers finished the match with 32 shots, the most by a team in a MLS match since 1998. Despite its three goals scored, Caleb Porter believed the Timbers “could have scored ten goals” and were left to rue their finishing ability.
“In professional soccer, it’s hard to create chances. It’s maybe the hardest thing to do,” said Valeri, who had nine shots to go along with his three assists. “It’s a strange feeling, but the thing is we can’t win at home and it’s disappointing.”
After withstanding the initial onslaught, the Earthquakes took the lead midway through the first half when a Shea Salinas shot hit the post only to fall to the foot of Wondolowski. Coming into the match, San Jose had scored the first goal of a game a league-low eight times, while it was the 19th-time the Timbers had conceded first. No other MLS team has conceded the first goal more than 16 times this season.
Giving up the goal took the wind out of Portland’s sails in the minutes directly following San Jose taking the lead.
“It’s happened before and that starts to wear on you a little bit because you have that in your heads,” Porter said.
San Jose doubled its lead just after the second half restart when a pass deflected off Pa Modou Kah and fell to the feet of Cordell Cato, whose left-footed curling shot left Ricketts little chance. Despite both Pa Kah and Ridgewell being in the area, neither made a play on the ball as the unmarked Cato scored his third goal of the season.
“It was just one of those things, where it rebounds off him and could have gone anywhere,” Ridgewell said. “It’s just a sloppy goal that’s been given away.
For the second straight match, Powell found the scoresheet when he put the ball past Busch from a tough angle six minutes after San Jose’s second goal. The 20-year Jamaican fullback was put on goal after a Diego Valeri chip over the backline of the Earthquakes.
Valeri wasn’t finished creating goals for teammates, as his whipped cross found Ridgewell at the far post in the 74th minute, who tapped it in, to tie the match. It was the English defender’s second goal since signing with the Timbers in late June and set up the wild late game finish.
For the second time this season, Valeri finished a match with three assists and his season total of 12 puts him in a tie for second with Robbie Keane behind Landon Donovan. He also finished the match with nine shots, which is the most in the club’s MLS history.
“He’s been good all year,” Porter said. “He’s carried us at times and he was a man amongst boys today.”
With the three goals conceded, Portland has given up 46 for the season, which is the second most in the league. According to Ridgewell, all three of San Jose’s goals were on Portland self-inflicted errors.
“All the goals we could have stopped. Three goals that shouldn’t have happened,” Ridgewell said.
While the Earthquakes are winless in their last six matches, in that span they were able to play to draws with four of the top five teams in the Western Conference. Currently sitting in 8th place in the Conference (6-10-9) with 27 points, seven of San Jose’s final nine matches are against teams currently above them in the table.
Meanwhile, the draw moves the Timbers (8-8-11, 35 points) back ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the playoff race with 35 points.