by Norm Maves Jr., Special to The Oregonian
Thursday July 23, 2009, 10:30 PM
The two best teams in the United Soccer Leagues First Division proved it Thursday night as the Portland Timbers and the Puerto Rico Islanders fought to a scoreless draw before 14,103 at PGE Park.
The teams came in tied at 34 points atop the division and left the game with 35 and nothing yet decided.
The reason for the tie was obvious: The teams are evenly matched in speed, experience and skill — and attitude. It was clear from the outset the teams don’t like each other very much.
The evenness of the matchup showed in the numbers. Each team got off nine shots. The Islanders’ Bill Gaudette made five saves, the Timbers’ Steve Cronin three. Puerto Rico got off three inconsequential corner kicks; the Timbers none.
«They’re a very good team,» Timbers forward George Josten said. «A little more than halfway through the season and we’re still tied.
«That makes it a battle. We’ve played them a few times and we watch them on film. Each team is trying to impose its way on the other.»
The trouble is, they’re both trying to impose the same thing, so the teams spent the night running headlong into the other’s defense.
The Timbers were slow to come out for a scoreless first half as the Islanders, in their uncommonly bright tangerine uniforms, spent most of the first 20 minutes on Portland’s half of the field. The Timbers’ Cronin had to make one simple save, but two other shots sailed wide and Nicholas Addlery’s popup header from close range soared high.
At that point, the Islanders had five shots to Portland’s three, two corner kicks to the Timbers’ wishful thinking and Puerto Rico’s Gaudette hadn’t yet been forced to make a save.
A physical tone emerged, though. Islanders midfielder Domenic Mediate flattened Portland’s Josten at the 20-minute mark, then wound up on the artificial turf himself after a belt from Timbers defender Cameron Knowles.
Tony McManus of Portland and Puerto Rico’s Dan Gargan each drew yellow-card cautions from referee Andres Pfefferkorn. Knowles and Stephen Keel each got yellow cards in the second half.
But the early collisions seemed to light the Timbers’ fuse, and they came after Gaudette hard. Brian Farber wriggled free 30 feet out on the right side for a full-leg blast that Gaudette came out and smothered at impact.
Then Farber stole Cronin’s clear from Islanders defender Cristian Arrieta and got off a bad-angle shot, and in the 39th minute the Timbers got off two shots in front of the Puerto Rico goal before the Islanders could clear the ball.
The best action in the second half was at midfield as the teams worked for openings, but most offensive thrusts were smothered before they developed.
The Timbers got the first shot on goal of the second half in the 71st minute when Josten got open for a drive right at Gaudette.
The Timbers got their next great opportunity midway through the 82nd minute when Farber managed a sliding cross across the goalkeeper’s box to Alex Nimo on the right side, but his shot went wide left.
The game ended the way it began, with the ball rolling around harmlessly at midfield.
«In a game like that, it’s a matter of who makes the first big mistake,» McManus said. «There’s pretty bad blood between the two teams. I’m not a big fan of some of their players, and I think I speak for the whole team that way.»
Goals speak louder, though. But not Thursday night.