Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
By EVAN REAM
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It was a must-win match for both the Portland Timbers and the San Jose Earthquakes to keep their playoff hopes alive. Down a goal in the second half and missing key attacking difference makers, the Timbers needed someone unheralded to step up and save their season in front of a sellout crowd of 10,525 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Costa Rican winger Rodney Wallace made sure that the Timbers (10-9-12, 42 points) wouldn’t fall into a four-point hole, scoring twice in a three minute period off deflected goals to propel Portland to a 2-1 win and pull the Oregonian side within one point of fifth-place Vancouver Whitecaps with three matches in the season left to play, and eliminating the Earthquakes (6-13-11, 29 points) from the playoffs in the process.
“Our backs have been against the wall several times. Every time you think we’re down, we get up and we respond,” said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. “This was another big result on the road after we swallowed a bitter pill last week (in a 3-2 loss at Toronto after the Timbers were up 2-0 early). This is now the third or fourth time we’ve done that.”
“I like our teams chances when our backs are against the wall,” Porter added. “Our backs are going to be against the wall in the last three games. That’s great because it’s going to bring out our best.”
A strong run down the right-hand side in the 71st minute created the first goal, finding Rodney Wallace open 12 yards out from goal.
Wallace, who missed the first four months of the season recovering from a torn ACL, received the ball at his feet, turned, and fired a shot that deflected up and over Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch and into the upper left-hand corner of the net.
Three minutes later, a Liam Ridgewell header off of a Gaston Fernandez corner kick deflected off Wallace for the eventual winning goal of the match.
“We’ve missed (Wallace),” Porter said. “He was a big player for us last year, not even just chipping in goals, but his fight, his edge, his pressures defending.”
In the 57th minute, Chris Wondolowski ghosted into the back post with a trademark run splitting Timbers’ center backs Liam Ridgewell and Norberto Paparatto, where a picture-perfect Shea Salinas cross found his head.
Though Wondolowski’s initial close-range header was saved by two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts, a fortuitous bounce allowed the former MLS MVP to toe-poke the ball home for his 14th goal of the season, and ninth goal since returning from Brazil.
With a Vancouver Whitecaps win earlier in the day, the Earthquakes came into the match knowing that a loss would put them out of playoff contention for the second straight year.
Both sides came out timid, unwilling to send numbers forward, afraid to get caught on a counter attack.
Hurt by the absences of captain Will Johnson and play-maker Diego Valeri due to an injury and yellow-card accumulation, respectively, the Timbers were unable to assert their usual dominance on the midfield and unable to find attacking stars Darlington Nabge and Rodney Wallace on the wings, leaving forward Fanendo Adi on an island up top.
Attacking play was few-and-far between in the first half, with the only significant chance a Liam Ridgewell header that Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch pushed onto the crossbar in stoppage time after Gaston Fernandez drove in a corner kick to the far post.
The second period of play started out similarly to the first, until Wondolowski forced the visitors to send more numbers forward due to his scrappy goal.
The Timbers had no trouble doing this, sending hordes of players into the box, eventually resulting in the Wallace brace.
Things could have been worse for the Earthquakes late, but Adi missed an open goal from two yards off of a cross from Wallace and San Jose defender Pablo Pintos was sent off with a straight red for a rough challenge on the Costa Rican.
Here are the match highlights: