Union match reports

Match Report: Philadelphia Union 0-0 Portland Timbers

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Smart goalkeeping and chaotic weather highlighted a goalless draw Saturday that saw both the Union and the Timbers control the match for extended periods but fail to score.

After a half hour of dominant play from Portland, Danny Cruz single-handedly crafted the two best chances of the first half before a powerful storm caused an extended halftime delay.

Once play resumed, the match went end-to-end with Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath showing courage and quickness and his Portland counterpart, Donovan Ricketts, displaying his fastest reflexes. Both keepers earned themselves a clean sheet and their respective sides a share of the spoils.

“This was one of his best matches of the year,” Union captain Brian Carroll said of his goalkeeper’s performance. “He was really strong back there, he was communicative, decisive and he came up with a lot of really huge plays for us. Hard fought game from everyone, but personally I thought this was one of Zac’s best.”

First half

John Hackworth brought Jack McInerney straight back into the starting lineup following his release from national team duty, reuniting him with Conor Casey up front. After scoring the winner against Chivas USA, Michael Farfan held onto his center midfield spot alongside Brian Carroll, while Danny Cruz and Sebastien Le Toux continued on the wings.

McInerney’s return was not enough to inspire the Union out of the gates though, with Portland starting more strongly. Frederic Piquionne beat Ray Gaddis in the box in the 5th minute, but Jeff Parke arrived to clear his cutback pass.

Portland settled into their comfortable ball possession game, with the Union sitting deep and looking to spring the counterattack. After absorbing pressure at the back, they nearly grabbed the opener in the 12th minute when a breaking Sheanon Williams found Le Toux up the wing. Unfortunately for the Union, his cross flew beyond Casey at the back post.

For their dominance of possession and territory, the Timbers struggled to break down a resolute Union back line, with Parke and Okugo holding their ground.

In the 22nd minute, Cruz nearly set the table for the Union opener. Regathering the ball after Jack Jewsbury blocked his initial shot, Cruz sent his cross to the back post, but Portland scrambled and cleared it before Le Toux could bundle it home.

At the other end, Portland had their first good look at goal minutes later when Will Johnson drove through the midfield and laid off for the streaking Ryan Johnson. Okugo did well to push Johnson to the end line, and MacMath held his ground, saving the shot with his left leg.

MacMath was called on to make another kick save shortly after when the overlapping Michael Harrington found Jewsbury at the back post.

With half an hour gone, the Union began to find more of their attacking ambition.  This time it was Cruz nearly latching onto a ball in the box, only to be flattened by Donovan Ricketts after the keeper cleared the danger.

Angered by the lack of a call, Danny Cruz increased his energy and tore through two Portland defenders in the 36th minute, but his cutback ball for Le Toux was just too hard and the chance went begging. Cruz took matters into his own hands a minute later, flying passed Jewsbury. Again Ricketts proved up to the threat and pushed away Cruz’s shot at full stretch.

With time winding down in the first half, Casey became the first player to enter Ricardo Salazar’s notebook after he hacked down Will Johnson. The yellow card will rule Casey out of the Union’s trip to Vancouver.

Second Half

While the players were in the locker rooms at halftime, the weather worsened, prompting a delay of more than half an hour. While lightning flashed and rain pelted down, the sold-out crowd huddled in the concourses.

“Guys were laying down sleeping with their legs up on [the chair in their stall],” Carroll said. “We all had our feet up on the chair watching some other games around the league. You know, just kicking back and relaxing. It was all about staying focused, but I think we all realized that we needed to chill out a little bit.”

Once play finally resumed, Portland grabbed the first chance. Racing to the end line, Ryan Johnson cut a low ball across the face of goal for the arriving Diego Valeri. But MacMath was alert to the danger and bravely dove to punch clear at the feet of the onrushing Timbers’ attacker.

At the other end, the Union began to regather the momentum. McInerney did well with the ball to keep play alive, allowing Cruz to have a shot that was deflected behind for a corner. The Union kept up the pressure with first Casey, then Farfan serving back into the box. On the final ball, Farfan picked out McInerney, but he was unable to keep his header down and he failed to trouble Ricketts.

MacMath again had to be sharp in the 55th minute when a twisting and turning Valeri spun in the box. Fortunately for the Union, Valeri’s shot was into the body of the well-positioned MacMath, who showed strength to push the ball away to safety.

While the Union was getting more of the ball, they were unable to create clear cut chances in the final third with Farfan and Cruz both culpable.

Piquionne nearly opened the scoring in the 66th minute when he raced into the box, but MacMath reacted quickly. Diving at Piquionne’s feet, the Union keeper did well to get a touch on the ball before smothering it with his second attempt.

Having firmly wrested the momentum from the visitors, the Union had three chances to win the match. The first came in the 71st minute when McInerney played in Casey on the right. While he hit his shot sweetly, high to the near post, Ricketts was equal to it, leaping well to palm the chance away.

While that save was of the highest quality, Ricketts was fortunate to avoid conceding in the 77th minute when Williams served a ball into the box. In the warm air, the cross floated further than anyone, Ricketts expected. The keeper was suddenly backpedaling furiously towards his net, where he was relieved to see the ball fly inches wide of his far post.

Substitute Leo Fernandes was nearly the Union’s hero in the 88th minute. After a melee in front of Portland’s goal, the ball fell invitingly for Fernandes at the top of the box. But with Ricketts soundly beaten, the rookie midfielder could not get his shot on target, scraping his volleyed effort off the outside of the post and condemning the match to a scoreless conclusion.

“Would we have liked to come away with three points? Sure,” said assistant coach Rob Vartughian, who filled in as team manager for a suspended John Hackworth. “But at the end of the day, a guy makes a world-class save on Conor’s ball, that’s just how it goes. In terms of where we are from a confidence standpoint, I think everybody feels pretty good about what we’re doing.”

The fourth in the Eastern Conference Union next face fourth in the Western Conference Vancouver on the road on Saturday, July 27 (7 pm, TCN, Direct Kick, MLS Live).

Philadelphia Union
Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Jeff Parke, Ray Gaddis; Sebastien Le Toux, Michael Farfan (Leo Fernandes ’69), Brian Carroll, Danny Cruz (Fabinho ’79); Jack McInerney (Antoine Hoppenot ’82), Conor Casey
Unused substitutes: Chris Konopka, Matt Kassel, Kleberson, Aaron Wheeler

Portland Timbers
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Darlington Nagbe (Kalif Alhassan ’90), Diego Valeri, Diego Chara (Ben Zemanski ’46); Ryan Johnson (Jose Valencia ’74), Frederic Piquionne
Unused substitutes: Milos Kocic, Ryan Miller, Sal Zizzo, Futty Danso

Scoring Summary

Discipline Summary
43 – PHI: Casey (caution)
75 – PHI: Fernandes (caution)

Ricardo Salazar

Philadelphia Union Portland Timbers
17 Attempts on Goal 13
4 Shots on Target 4
9 Shots off Target 4
4 Blocked Shots 5
6 Corner Kicks 6
15 Fouls 14
18 Open Play Crosses 13
1 Offsides 0
2 First Yellow Cards 0
0 Second Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
52 Duels Won 61
46% Duels Won % 53%
253 Total Pass 386
71% Passing Accuracy % 79%
40.5% Possession 59.5%


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I was not particularly please with the Unions effort last night. There were a number of occasions where the Union would either wait for a pass or start moving away from the original passer so they could be moving in the right direction when they received it. Of course, this didn’t help when the Portland players were making sure the pass didn’t get to the target.

    I also kept seeing the Union pass to midfielders or defenders who were well covered, with no outlet, and with no teammate looking to get in a position to help them. These are some basic game skills the team really needs to work on.

  2. After seeing Portland live and in-person, I have to say that I was very impressed by their movement, posession and pressure. Also, they are a very physical team…big, strong and fast. When you see what Porter has done with the side in only half a season, it’s very impressive. Considering what type of players that the US typically produces, it’s hard not to see Porter coaching and shaping the USMNT in the years to come.

    While it was tough to drop 2 pts at home, it’s not a terrible result given how well Portland has played on the road this year. Cruz was a real terror down the left flank in the 1st half and Portland made sure that this didn’t continue with Zemanski, Johnson and Nagbe all helping give cover to Jewsbury.

    Chara’s exit really helped open things us for us as he covers so much ground and Zemanski just isn’t that kind of player. I thought that some of our players adjusted well to the constant ball pressure by Portland, but we were reeling in the opening 20-25 min.

    Cynically, I couldn’t help wonder how deliberate Casey’s yellow was as he’s an older player who will now skip the longest road trip of the season to Vancouver. His move saves his legs and clears his caution docket for a stretch where all, but one of our remaining matches are vs Eastern Conference foes.

    • I kind of view Portland and the Earth-2 version of the Union. You know the Philadelphia Union that does all the things that the team says they do. Play an attacking, attractive brand of soccer that is fun to watch. With some strong(Portland Tough?) players too. They kept their cool and never responded to Philly’s Stoke ball. Damn.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    I was at the game and I didn’t think the Union gave a bad effort. I think they played decent and if Ricketts doesn’t make a great save on Casey, and if Fernandes doesn’t hit the post, they could have gotten the three points. That said Portland is a good team and could hae gotten the win as well. It was nice to see MacMath have a good game. Casey will be missed next week, and a draw will be tough to come by.

    The referee last night sucked… flat out. I thought he was bad for both sides.

    • I wonder how long Oka has been with the team. Because it seems Zac’s turn around was around his signing. Maybe all Zac did need was a mentor of some sort out there.

      Heh I actually thought the ref had a good game

      • Andy Muenz says:

        You didn’t think Ricketts two hands on Cruz should have been a penalty?

      • are you talking about the play where Danny Cruz ran into Ricketts? that one? The one where Ricketts got to the ball first and Cruz got ran over? Or are you referring to another play?

      • I actually think his turnaround came with the punch game. He has been punching balls since then more than I’ve ever seen him. It’s a safer move, but what has correlated to it (not implying causation) has been an apparent increase in comfort level. The rest of his game looks fairly good. Played a really good game Saturday.

      • Regarding the Cruz versus Ricketts encounter: I’d love to see a bit more discussion about it. Was it a penalty? Why? Was it not a penalty? Why not?
        I didn’t play soccer and didn’t watch until the U came along. So I don’t have the same amount of background info to draw on as others. That all said, to me it looked like a penalty. Ricketts seemed more interested to delivering a blow to Cruz than in getting to the ball. To me, the fact that Ricketts got the ball doesn’t really matter. He made no effort at all to avoid Cruz, opting instead to plow him over as hard as possible.
        But like I said, I’d love to see more chatter about it – from both points of view.

      • That wasn’t a penalty, Cruz ran into him. Watch the replay and you’ll see Ricketts jump up and back to avoid most of the collision.

        I thought Cruz’s flop in the second half where he simulated a boot to the head was deplorable. He lay there for a minute til he realized he wasn’t going to get a call when he wasn’t actually kicked. Philly Tough,yo.

      • The ref was just awful, completely inconsistent and both times players got into shoving matches he was far away from it and made no efforts to go break it up.
        The Ricketts and Cruz contact looked painful, but was definitely not a foul, however directly after that while everyone else was paying attention to Cruz and Ricketts someone on Portland leveled a Union player with a quite blatant two handed shove by the touchline. What was the referee doing during this? Watching the big stadium screen.

    • Personally i don’t think they did enough for a home game, against a team that travelled from the other side of the country. They have been on a run of home games that saw excellent wins against Columbus and NY, a good 2nd half against Chivas and a game where they outplayed FC Dallas. Instead of that type of performance, this was as close to a “pre-arranged 0-0 result” as you are going to get. Both teams happy with a point, and that should never be the case for the home team.

      I think the first time we had them under pressure was the 88th minute. Otherwise it was just the odd counter-attack. We can point to the save off of Casey – but that again was a counter attack. Lets actually put teams under pressure and dominate the game – and then it will be a well played game.

  4. I think this was a classic make Danny Cruz look better than he is game. Some teams just decide that Danny isn’t worth defending AT ALL and just leave him alone to run around with the ball and brick shots. It is kind of frustrating.

    • If Cruz could play for 90 min like during minutes 15-25 in first half he would be a star. Unbelievable noone connected on his excellent cross.

    • I thought he may have been our best outfield player yesterday. (at least going forward).

      The funniest thing was he was being fouled all day (whether or not the assault by Rickets is a foul can be debated, but remember getting the ball does not make it not a foul). The only time he was given a foul, he tripped over his own feet….

  5. I had a couple celebrity sightings last night- during the rain delay Gavin Wilkinson walked through the crowd under 101 and then I saw Eli walking through the same area at the end of the game when he was walking toward the lockers.

  6. Not a very interesting or enthusiastic performance from either team.
    Same Union problems are evident each game but are never resolved by the management. I’m sure the weather and the heat played a role last night, however. Overall, Portland appeared to be a better team.
    Some observations: Cruz provided the same ineffective performance. Fabinho should have been substituted in about 15 minutes earlier. Also, they should simply leave Kleberson off the game roster. Its pointless. The management are intent not use him for whatever reason. Knowing their track record with players I am more inclined to blame the Union then the player.
    Le Toux had an off game. Williams, Park, Okugo, and Carroll put in a stable and consistent performance. At times, Gaddis seems to be lost out there.
    Apparently, none of these problems will be remedied anytime soon.

    • John Ling says:

      I thought Okugo had a poor game by his standards. He got turned around a couple times, was out of position a few others. I think this is as much to do with him setting the bar really high as anything else, though.
      I thought Cruz played well. Maybe the best of anybody not named MacMath.
      When it comes to giving out scores for the game, please give Fabinho an extra .1 for stopping to sign an autograph for my daughter and the other kids in 109.

  7. PhillyHotspur says:

    Decent Game. Not nearly enough from the MF. Per the Ushe

    Hack simply does not want to optimize this tactical strategy of quality football thru the MF.

    Props to the Portland fanbase . A ton of them there , lots of energy and some good old banter and singing

  8. Bottom line, Portland is a much better team, and I’m glad I got to see it firsthand. We should all be happy with the tie. Anyone else notice the Union only started to look alive when a certain Brazilian playing out of position started to create skilled chances?

  9. It’s weird, there have been ties this season where Hack tells us we’re happy for the point. Those other times he was full of Lot A gravel, but this time they should be glad. They were outclassed for significant stretches and still almost stole a win from a very good team.

    Hack has said a few times that the U deserve respect. We played a good opponent who had their full complement of players available, at home, and we didn’t score. So…

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