Timbers frustrated with 1-1 draw
They had plenty of opportunities, but the Portland Timbers still came up just short of victory on Thursday, settling for a 1-1 draw against Orlando City at Providence Park.
It was a dominant draw for the Timbers, a game in which they held 62 percent of the possession and took 26 shots to Orlando's two. Even so, it took a second-half goal from Jeremy Ebobisse to earn the draw against another opponent that crowded the defensive third of the field.
"Overall, I thought it was a good performance," Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said. "What was missing was that goal that gave us the three points at the end to make sure that it showed what we contributed during the match."
"They're a very good team," Orlando coach James O'Connor said of the Timbers. "And they put us under a lot of pressure, but I thought by and large we coped really well and defended excellently."
The Timbers are 7-8-4 (25 points), tied with Sporting Kansas City for ninth place in the MLS Western Conference and four points below the seventh-place playoff line. They have played fewer matches than any Western Conference team.
Orlando City 7-9-5 (26) remained ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Savarese went with a strong lineup for the interconference match three days before a Cascadia match at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Seattle. Other than Andy Polo starting on the wing to give Ebobisse some rest, the Timbers coach went with his top attacking players and his primary midfield duo of Diego Chara and Cristhian Paredes. With Julio Cascante suspended, Claude Dielna started alongside Larrys Mabiala, who rotated back into his starting spot at center back. Zarek Valentin and Jorge Moreira started at outside back, and Steve Clark made his ninth MLS start of the season and his fourth in a row in goal for Portland.
Former Portland Pilots star Benji Michel made his fourth start for Orlando City. The striker scored his first career MLS goal in a 1-0 win against the Columbus Crew last Saturday.
A scary moment occurred in the eighth minute, when Orlando City's Alex De John took an incidental boot to the face from Portland forward Brian Fernandez. Fernandez was shown a yellow card.
O'Connor said De John was up and walking around but still being observed by medical personnel. He said De John was out cold after taking Fernandez's boot to the face, "so it's concerning."
De John's injury led to playing time for Johnson, who had the first shot of the game for the Lions in the 32nd minute. It missed to the left.
The first goal of the game came because of mistakes from Portland's outside backs. Valentin went to pick up the ball in the 44th minute for a throw-in but Robinho kept the ball in play and dribbled into the penalty area. A weak clearing attempt by Jorge Moreira landed in the path of Santiago Patino who easily beat goalkeeper Steve Clark.
"Clearly I thought the ball was out and it wasn't," Valentin said about the mistake. "I don't care if it leads to a goal or not, mental mistakes cannot happen. I put my hand up and accept responsibility for that."
"You know soccer is like life, things happen sometimes," Savarese said. "We made a mistake, and they were able to score the goal."
The goal was a sore spot in what was otherwise a decent first half. Portland spent plenty of time in Orlando's half, with 62 percent possession, and got off 10 shots to Orlando's two.
"We created a lot of situations," Savarese said. "A lot of shots, a lot of opportunities and crosses."
Orlando continued to park the bus in the second half after doing so for much of the first, making it difficult for the Timbers to get quality shots.
"It's frustrating, but we know that's their plan, and that's how they got a result," Savarese said. "A tie for them was a good result, and you have to expect sometimes teams are going to play that way."
"We've got to generate goals," Valentin said on countering the strategy. "I think we need a lot of movement in the front half, and we've just got to find a way to unlock the defense that we're going against."
Ebobisse replaced Polo in the 61st minute and proved to be the difference between one point in the standings and none. A nice slide tackle from Diego Valeri in the 83rd minute forced a turnover and allowed Moreira to whip a cross into the box. Fernandez dove to get his head on the cross and it flicked into the path of Ebobisse, who rose up to head the ball off the post and into the net for the 1-1 equalizer.
"Anytime you come into the game as an attacking player you want to be active," said Ebobisse, whose sixth MLS goal this season ties him with Fernandez for the team lead. "I think having two forwards in the box, and Brian and I gave their center backs a lot more issues, and that's how it manifested itself on the goal, with Brian flicking it on and me being able to readjust myself to get a shot on target that would go in."
Portland will have to make a quick turnaround for the road match against Seattle. Savarese said he will wait and see how his team feels before deciding on a rotation.
"This is a rivalry match, a big match, but right now it's all about what we did today," Savarese said. "Analyze it, look at what we have and plan, because we don't have that many days to make sure that we're ready for this match."
It's not lost on the players how important Sunday's match is for both the team and the fans, but maintaining a routine will be important.
"For me, my preparation doesn't change whether it's a friendly match, whether it's preseason or not, because I find that the more stable you are throughout your preparation, the more likely you are to perform at a decent level," Valentin said.
"A lot of us have played in Seattle before," Ebobisse said. "We know how their team rallies behind their fans and how much energy they have, similar to us at home. We're used to going into places and playing foil, and we're looking forward to it."
In addition to Michel, Thursday's match was a homecoming for Orlando City midfielder Will Johnson and assistant coach Sean McAuley. Johnson did not start but was among the substitutes for the Lions. McAuley was a Timbers assistant coach from 2012 until last season, when he left to join James O'Connor's staff in Orlando.
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