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Hershey: Busch (Petronis 71'); Kopp, Henry, Marinos (Degand 67'), Henning; Ze Roberto (Ferry 67', Watson, Klein, Swords (Lindemeyer 62'); Miller, Feniger (Williams 71')
Portland: Napoleon; Costigan, Sancho, Wilkinson, Chulis (Vadim T. 75'); Clarke, O'Neill (Lewis 78'), Winters (Ochoa 71'), Benedetti; Baena (Sawatzky 75'), Howes (McPeak 46').
Attendance: 1,048. Accurate to the # in the stands, and pathetic with 3 weeks to sell the game.
The game started out slowly, both teams trading attacks and crosses, with both sides displaying a willingness to attack as much as possible. Portland dodged a scare in the 3rd minute, when a Hershey cross got knocked down by a hand in the area and went uncalled. Feniger was played in on the left side five minutes later, Napoleon charging out to collect just in front of Feniger's charge. Swords made an excellent overlap on the left (theme warning) and played a solid cross into the center of the box for Miller, whose flying volley attempt turned into a gentle moonball over the goal. In the 13th minute, a hard, swerving Timbers cross from the left flank sailed all the way across the face of goal for an open Clarke at the back post, until Marinos came sliding in to clear from Clarke's feet for a corner, which ended up getting cleared. O'Neill proceeded to launch a moonshot way high and wide from 30 yards, Chulis had a cross cleared out in the 16th, from which a lazy Costigan back pass almost sprung Feniger in on Napoleon, the keeper sprinting out of his goalmouth to clear the ball and hurdle a sliding Feniger.
By now the tactics for the match were clear. Portland was throwing everyone forward that they possibly could and belting crosses as frequently as possible mostly at Howes, leaving their last two defenders to cover Miller and Feniger by themselves. The Timbers mostly attacked up the right side, Chulis and mostly Clarke bombarding the far post with aerial crosses and the near with groundcutters. Or to put it another way, the Timbers own game plan took their leading scorer completely out of the game. Baena got the ball at his feet maybe twice the whole game long. The rest of the time, he was either watching crosses fly over his head or playing target man up top for punts. Hershey meanwhile kept a flat back four, and played a short version of Route 1. Balls for the forwards came over the top, but not as long punts from the backline, rather as short, hard line drives into space from Klein and Watson in the center of midfield, for Miller and Feniger who were constantly checking back and making runs 1v1 into channels and increasingly straight past their markers. (For the gridiron fans, they just kept running fly patterns all game long). Alternately, when the Wildcats built possession into the Timbers half, time and time again the ball would be switched from the right side across the defense to Swords or Feniger in acres of space at the edge of or in the box, whom the Timbers defense never remembered was there.
In the 20th minute Howes controlled a cross, spun off his defender on the extreme left of the box and shot just wide left from about 16 yards. Hershey came back down, and a defense splitting pass from right to left found Feniger alone in the box. Sancho, who up until now had been superb in the back, proved that the Battery's loss was not necessarily Portland's game, was what was intended as a shoulder charge turned into a clumsy body check for a PK. Miller stepped up to take it, and gave the Timbers the break they needed, shooting waist high to Napoleon's left, the direction he'd dived in. He knocked down and smothered the shot. A solid minute of Hershey pressure resulted in Napoleon diving to stuff a Swords cross, then in the 26th a long ball down the right finally found Baena. His byline cross beat Busch heading for Howes, but was sent back whence it came. Baena knocked the ball back in again, but with no momentum behind this one Busch ate it up.
28th minute and the breakthough. Steve Klein from the center circle belted a through ball over the top to Miller, behind everyone on the left side. He came in from the left side of the box, Napoleon came out to meet him, Miller slid the ball across the top of the box to Feniger, who belted the ball inside the right post as Napoleon retreated and dove. 1-0 Hershey. Costigan was carded in the 33rd (don't ask me why), then a Hershey steal and 4v3 in Portland's half was wasted when Miller blindly backheeled instead of turning and shooting from 8 yards. O'Neill got justly carded in the 37th for stamping on Watson as he took the ball and turned to go in midfield. Another switch found Feniger free in the box again on the left in space, who closed in, then crossed across the box and back to a charging Swords whose unstoppable onetimer flew narrowly wide of the left post. Portland retaliated with a high far post cross for a momentarily open Howes, Busch having to come out to rip the ball off his head. Watson again sent Feniger free over the top on the left, whose far post bouncer sent Napoleon down to smother. Swords in injury time was set free by a neat 1-2 beating 4 Timbers players on the left flank, Sancho's slide tackle was a second too late, yellow card and restart. While I was looking down writing that, there was a whistle, a roar, and a direct red card to Jeff Clarke for apparently destroying Chris Marinos from behind. While I did miss it, Marinos' and the crowd's reaction, Clarke and Bobby Howe's lack of one, and everyone's positions on the field leads me to think it was justified.
The second half began with Portland first sub, and the first good move of the half was Portland's as well. Costigan came free on the left in the 52nd, and crossed to the spot for Baena, who headed back and down towards O'Neill but Kopp cleared the ball before it got to its intended recipient. Baena then dropped back, stole the ball and dropped it for Chulis, who shot horribly wide right from 25 yards. Four minutes later, a neat slicing pass led Ze Roberto in, but Napoleon charged again to collect off his feet. Portland's best and almost last chance came in the 62nd. O'Neill stepped up to intercept in Hershey's half and led a 3v3 counter. He slipped the ball left to Baena at the edge of the box, who for the first time in the game got the ball at his feet in a position to do something with it. He went at his defender while drifting towards the center of the box, then curled a shot on the turn around the defender for the far post sailing just barely wide. Had it been on target it was in, Busch dove full out but was cleanly beaten. Off the Hershey goal kick, Sancho advanced down the Timbers right side on Marinos. He attempted a stepover move, sending one leg in a high kick over the ball and managing only to look like a hairy spastic Rockette. Marinos giggled, stripped him and countered, resulting in a 1 hop shot straight on Napoleon from the D. Hershey immediately came back, a through ball up the middle sending Lindemeyer and Miller in all alone, Lindemeyer taking the ball to the top of the 18 as Napoleon charged and got down just barely enough to stuff the far post try. Manic substituting ensued, and Portland gathered everything up for one last go. In the 80th minute Darin Lewis had a bomb from 22 yards out go wide right. Two minutes later, Sancho had a clean header at the far post from a freekick on the left side go wide right. In the 84th, Portland had another free kick from the right, flicked on and out eventually for a Timbers corner. Petronis charged to punch the corner out, the rebound falling to Costigan, whose volley from the top of the box forced a superb diving save from Petronis for another corner. Drew Kopp made a great run in the 89th minute, winding his way through the left side of the Timbers defense past 3 people into the box, drawing Napoleon. Kopp faked right, broke left, Napoleon dived to cover, Kopp shot back against his body to the right, and Napoleon came up with the kick save. Lewis had a weak shot far post eaten up by Petronis in the 90th minute and that was pretty much the game.
Local color: Hershey has what could be called ultras, sponsored by a used sporting goods chain no less. They're called the "Superfans" (bright orange shirts with the superman logo on front, sponsor logo on the back) , they're all teenagers (about 30 or so), they have their own minibleachers and a megaphone, and they tailgate. Granted, it's chips, salsa, and 2 liters of soda around a trash can in the parking lot, but it's still tailgating. Their one nice chant all game came in the second half, when Napoleon was near them. Every time he took a step, it was "Left, right, left right" in time. It was cute. And you can hear quite clearly. I was 70 yards away and hear them distinctly. Part of this is good acoustics in the stadium. At the Hershey-Cincinnati match earlier in the season, Brian O'Leary went ballistic over a corner kick award 20 yards away and the Special Olympians in the front of my section learned a couple cool new words. Part of it is that the fans are incredibly silent. The only quieter cemetery is the one Buffy Summers is buried in right now.
As I was once a keeper, whenever I go to a game it's fun to yell stuff at the enemy keeper. Stuff that I know gets under the skin. Since I want to see more soccer before the year ends, that made Napoleon the target. It is however somewhat difficult to yell stuff at the enemy when the enemy's mother is sitting four rows in front of you. We chatted. She's a very nice lady.
Memo to the Hershey staff. I love the gameday programs you put out. (30 solid pages, no kidding, of photocopied stats and rosters and stuff). I love that you give out every single last thing you've got. I love that you print out and pass out the league standings from a-league.com and not the league site. But if you're going to just reprint the Portland Timbers roster from the official league roster, you might not want to include the opposing player's home addresses, SSN's, and phone numbers. Mark Baena, if you're reading this, are the digits on your home address really 1116 in Chula Vista, CA?