Timbers open CCL with draw
The Timbers had opportunities to carry a lead home to Portland from Tuesday's first leg of their Concacaf Champions League round-of-16 matchup with C.D. Marathon at San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Alas, the Timbers couldn't hold a pair of one-goal leads, settling for a 2-2 draw in the match played in challenging conditions April 6.
While not a perfect result, it sets up Portland well to advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament for clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Felipe Mora scored in the first half and a Diego Valeri free kick resulted in a Marathon own goal in the second half.
The two goals mean the Timbers have the tiebreaker advantage if the second leg ends in a scoreless draw or a 1-1 tie.
The second leg is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13, when some 6,000 fans will be allowed at Providence Park.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said his team played a smart match to handle fatigue as the second half progressed.
"We're not satisfied with this result. But scoring two goals away is very important," Savarese said.
With temperatures in the 80s, high humidity and long, slow grass at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, it was hardly ideal conditions for the Timbers' first competitive match since the playoff loss to FC Dallas on Nov. 22.
"It's hot. The field is muddy. And it's not easy to play because the ball doesn't move quickly. But these are the conditions that we expected. We prepared for it. We dealt really well with those challenges," Savarese said.
The Timbers looked sharp at the start, dominated most of the first half and had at least three chances to grab an early lead. Marathon goalkeeper Denovan Torres made strong reaction stops to deny Yimmi Chara and Eryk Williamson.
The breakthrough came from Mora in the 35th minute with a left-footed shot Marathon goalkeeper Denovan Torres got a hand on but was unable to keep out.
New Timbers right back Josecarlos Van Rankin assisted on the goal with a left-footed pass after crossing into space at the left side of the penalty area.
Marathon, which had not threatened to that point, tied it less than four minutes later when Bryan Castillo was unmarked in front of goal and tapped home a delivery from Edwin Solano, who got around Van Rankin and sent a low ball for the open Castillo.
Portland's second goal at the hour mark was a Valeri special. His free kick from about 35 yards was on its way into the upper left corner. Torres deflected the shot off the crossbar, but it bounced into the goal off the back of the diving goalkeeper for what was ruled an own goal.
Again, Marathon responded.
Moments after entering the match, Marlon Ramirez lashed a left-footed shot into the goal at the end of a quick counter-attack.
Portland might have been in some trouble if not for a series of Steve Clark saves, two wonderful stops on sharp headers by center back Mathias Techera from set pieces.
With Mora the only true striker available, recent defensive signee Ish Jome came on for stoppage time and played up top.
Outside backs Van Rankin and Carlos Bravo made their debut with the Timbers. Each had moments going forward, but was beaten in the buildup to the Marathon goals, with Bravo leaving his feet before Ramirez cut back and struck for the tying goal while falling down.
Marathon and Portland traded opportunities in an even second half, and the Honduran club's Kervin Arriaga took advantage of space to threaten Portland with his speed. But Savarese liked the balance provided by Williamson and Diego Chara in midfield, the way his defense dealt with long balls and the patience his team showed at times in possession.
Sebastian Blanco, recovering from ACL surgery, made the trip to Honduras but was not among the 18 Timbers in uniform. Portland also is without injured strikers Jeremy Ebobisse (hamstring) and Jaroslaw Niezgoda (due back from ACL surgery this summer).
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