Timbers drop points in stunning draw
The Portland Timbers were fortunate to have a two-goal lead as the 90th minute approached on Saturday at Providence Park.
But, again playing without their fans in the stadium, the Timbers' fortunes quickly turned.
Real Salt Lake, which kept the Timbers scrambling for much of the match, scored twice late to leave Portland with a stunning 4-4 draw.
It is the second consecutive disappointing result for Portland since resuming regular-season play following its MLS is Back Tournament championship. The Timbers, so confident and connected in defending their 18-yard box at that tournament, were constantly in scramble mode against RSL.
The match was played at the end of a tumultuous week in American sports, including the Timbers — to show support for the racial justice movement — deciding not to play on Wednesday after traveling to San Jose. But both Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse and coach Giovanni Savarese said those outside events did not impact the play on the field.
"When you decide you're going to step on the field, you have one job. The job is to get three points," Ebobisse said. "Perhaps we weren't at our best for throughout those 90 minutes, but we were still in position to win the game. So it's very disappointing on the back of a long week to conceded in the matter that we did."
It looked like Portland would emerge unlikely winners when Felipe Mora scored his first MLS goal in the 85th minute on a counter-attack. That goal happened seconds after RSL defender Nedum Onuoha saw his shot bounce off the inside of the post and stay out, so instead of a 3-3 tie, the home side was in front 4-2.
But Giuseppe Rossi, a former star for Italy, produced a quality finish as the clock hit 90 minutes. Another late substitute, Sam Johnson, then found space to toe-poke home the tying goal in the 94th minute.
Corey Baird assisted on each of those goals and also scored one for RSL, which answered every time Portland forged a lead.
Diego Chara, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Sebastian Blanco and Mora scored the Portland goals. Mora's first goal for the Timbers seemed like a big sigh-of-relief moment for the home side. But, the smiles proved premature.
"You cannot go and give up two goals the last four minutes. There are mental lapses, and it needs to be much better," a clearly frustrated Savarese said.
The tie leaves Portland at 3-2-2 (11 points) seven matches into a planned 23-game regular season. The Timbers remain fourth in a congested Western Conference. Real Salt Lake is 2-1-4 (10 points).
The visitors, at the end of a week when Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hanson stepped away from the club while MLS investigates accusations of racist behavior, were the more proactive side for much of Saturday's match and took a 30 attempts at goal. That number — and the 18 first-half RSL shots — are both records for a Portland MLS opponent.
Portland never trailed. But, the Timbers never really had the upper hand, it seemed. Especially in the first half, the Timbers struggled to string together passes or to find relief from RSL's pressure.
RSL finished with a 60-34 edge in duals won, scoring each of its goals by winning battles in front of Portland keeper Steve Clark. And, on a night the visitors earned 13 corner kicks, that lack of sharpness was costly.
Baird's goal that made it 1-1, Damir Kreilach's karate-kick from close range to make it 2-2 just after halftime, and the two late goals all came on plays the Timbers had opportunities to prevent. But a Portland team that won the MLS is Back tournament largely by being solid inside both 18-yard boxes was in scramble mode time and again on Saturday.
Savarese said his side has not shown the same commitment for 90-plus minutes in it last two matches that it did for seven matches in Orlando.
"When you mentally have lapses and you don't have a full 11 the entire match engaged, then these are situations that happen," Savarese said. "In Orlando, there was commitment, resilience, discipline all the way through the match."
In the sixth minute, Chara intercepted a pass from Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Andrew Putna and dribbled around the keeper for an easy finish. It was his 10th MLS goal in his 10th season with the Timbers.
Baird tied the score 1-1 in the 19th minute. The goal came after Portland was unable to cleanly clear the ball after a Real Salt Lake free kick, the ball falling to Baird for a point-blank finish.
Portland went back ahead less than two minutes later. Niezgoda rose to make solid contact with his head on a Diego Valeri corner kick for his second regular-season goal with the Timbers and his fourth in all competitions.
This was Niezgoda's second start in a Timbers uniform and the first time he and Ebobisse played at the same time. Ebobisse lined up on the right wing, with Niezgoda up top.
The other lineup change from last weekend's loss to Seattle was the return of Dario Zuparic in central defense alongside Larrys Mabiala.
The games continue to come fast for the Timbers, who are back at Providence Park, again without fans allowed because of COVID-19 restrictions, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against the L.A. Galaxy.
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