'Best performance' of year nets draw for Timbers
The breaks will flip.
Play that way and the Portland Timbers will be just fine.
Such was the reaction from the Timbers after a Wednesday 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire.
"Today — that's the bar," coach Caleb Porter said, praising the Timbers performance. "It was our best performance of the year, both sides of the ball. It's crazy in this sport that we can have 24 shots to six and not get out of here with three points."
The Timbers took an early lead, fell behind with a half-hour left and pulled even with 20 minutes to seek a winner.
But the Fire, the top team in the MLS standings, withstood Portland's push — escaping a stoppage time header from Fanendo Adi because the Portland striker shoved a Chicago defender to free himself for that opportunity.
Heading into a two-week break for the Gold Cup tournament, the Timbers are fourth in the Western Conference at 7-7-6 for 27 points. They are winless since a June 10 home victory over Dallas and are three points above the playoff cutoff — but have played more games than anyone else in the playoff mix.
The East-leading Fire are 11-3-4 for a league-best 38 points.
"Credit to them for sticking in there. But if we play this way the rest of the season, we'll get a lot more points, I'll tell you that," Timbers defender Zarek Valentin said.
The Timbers took the lead in the 24th minute as Adi converted a penalty kick.
A hand ball infraction against Chicago midfielder Juninho resulted in the opportunity. Dairon Asprilla outjumped his defender to head the ball into the middle, and then Adi's attempt to control the ball bounced off the upper arm of the Fire midfielder.
The Fire tied the game in the 34th minute. Winger Arturo Alvarez sent the ball into the penalty area. Nemanja Nikolic might have deflected it into the goal with his right leg, but Alvarez was given credit for the goal, which skipped past Jake Gleeson.
Porter said he needed to look at the play closer to figure out if his goalkeeper could have played it differently.
"It came out of nowhere, obviously," Porter said of the Alvarez goal. "Again, that's this sport. One little moment when the ball gets crossed in, that can happen. We'll look at it."
Chicago took the lead in the 61st minute, left back Brandon Vincent putting a shot off the underside of the cross bar for his first goal. The Timbers were in scramble mode on the play after the Fire won possession near the center line. The Timbers' Lawrence Olum attempted to back heel away a cross from Alvarez, but the ball found the unmarked Vincent 15 yards from goal.
Portland continued to push, but Chicago kept numbers behind the ball and effectively frustrated the Timbers by trapping attackers offside — the Timbers were flagged offside seven times in the match.
But Sebastian Blanco effectively beat that offside trap in the 70th minute, when he controlled a pass between defenders from Diego Valeri and slipped an angled shot past Chicago goalkeeper Matt Lampson.
"They had a lot of players almost in the box," said Valeri of the way the Fire crowded the 18-yard box with defenders. "I wanted to show them that I wanted to (shoot). I was looking for (Blanco), and he made a good move and a great finish."
From there, the Timbers turned up the heat, including energy in the last six minutes from forward Victor Arboleda and left back Marco Farfan, who entered in the 87th minute.
The Timbers outshot the Fire 9-2 (3-1 on target) in the first half. They had three near misses as Adi sent a header high off a corner kick in the opening minute and sent a flick header wide in the 18th minute. A bicycle kick try from Valeri also narrowly missed hitting the target.
The shot totals finished 24-6, 9-3 on target. Portland had 60 percent possession and eight corner kicks to one for Chicago.
"We are getting better every single game, and today we showed everything that I want this team to represent," Porter said. "Keep the ball. Dominate, press, be organized, play in transition. Play with confidence, play with an aggressive mentality.
"Everything that I want to see out of this team I saw today, except for the three points."
Despite being winless in five consecutive games, the mood from the Timbers camp was upbeat heading into a two-week break.
"We have been a little bit unlucky the last couple of games," Valeri said.
Against Sporting Kansas City and Chicago, Valeri said, the Timbers were better than the result.
"We played in a way that we didn't get the reward we deserved," he said. "But that's soccer. Maybe it will happen in the future that we get points we don't deserve. That's part of this game."
• The Timbers dressed only 17 players, one below the allotted 18. Four of the six available substitutes were rookies Farfan, Arboleda, Rennico Clarke and Jeremy Ebobisse. Defender Chance Myers and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella rounded out the bench.
• Vytas, who was subbed off late in the match, felt his hamstring tighten but should be fine according to Porter.
• Portland has never lost to Chicago. The Timbers have four wins and four draws against the Fire in league play (3-0-2 at home).
• The Timbers return to action in two weeks, when they play host to Real Salt Lake on July 19.
• Chicago was without designated player Sebastian Schweinsteiger. The German midfielder did not make the trip to Portland after leaving the Fire's previous match with a sore hip.