Portland Timbers battle Nashville to 1-1 draw
Goals seven minutes apart in the first half added up to a 1-1 draw between the Portland Timbers and Nashville SC in a midweek match at Providence Park between clubs straddling the MLS Western Conference playoff line.
Nashville, 20th minute — Teal Bunbury puts home a recycled ball that falls into his path on a Nashville corner kick.
Timbers, 27th minute — Santiago Moreno scores on a full volley from 12 yards. Like the Nashville goal, this came from a second ball on a corner kick. This one popped high into the air and Moreno did well to time his shot as the ball fell into his path.
Big picture — With 10 games left to play, the Timbers sit eighth in a tight Western Conference playoff chase. Portland is 7-6-11 for 32 points, three points back of third-place Minnesota and fourth-place FC Dallas, one point back of sixth-place Nashville and two behind fifth-place Real Salt Lake. So, while failing to gain ground with a home win, the Timbers extended their unbeaten run to nine games (four wins, five draws) and didn't lose ground to Nashville on a night when Portland was a bit shorthanded because of suspensions and injury.
Playing a new 3-5-2 formation, Portland gutted out the second half after playing a solid first 45 minutes. Now they have a couple days to prepare for a Saturday visit from FC Dallas that sets up as another key game in the Western Conference playoff chase.
Standout performers — Goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic came up big four times, stopping a couple of point-blank scoring chances and making a couple other athletic stops to rescue the draw.
Moreno, in addition to his skillful goal, was especially effective in the first half with dangerous runs out of midfield. Marvin Loria and Yimmi Chara, asked to play deeper as wing backs, were solid defensively. Loria managed to get forward to create a couple dangerous crosses from the left flank.
Officiating decisions — The Timbers got the benefit of a couple decisions from referee Silviu Petrescu on potential Nashville penalty kicks in the second half. In the 59th minute, Nashville's Hany Mukhtar dribbled into the penalty area and was bumped by a recovering Moreno. Mukhtar went to the ground but Petrescu showed him a yellow card for simulation. In the 78th minute, after Ivacic came up big against Alex Muyl, Portland defender Dario Zuparic appeared to have his arms around Bumbary as the rebound came to him. But no foul was given.
Lineup notes — With injuries and suspensions thinning his options, Savarese opened with a 3-5-2 formation. Coach Giovanni Savarese praised his team's ability to adapt to a formation they had little time to prepare. The three center backs were Larrys Mabiala flanked to his left by Dario Zuparic and right by Bill Tuiloma. With Diego Chara serving a one-game suspension and Cristhian Paredes and Eryk Williamson still nursing injuries, 20-year-old David Ayala made his first start in a home match and was charged with patrolling the center of the park to limit Nashville attacks and move the ball to the likes of Sebastian Blanco and Santiago Moreno. With Claudio Bravo unavailable, Loria started in a left wingback spot.
"I thought we played really well for a team that hasn't played as much in the system. I think the guys figured it out," Savarese said. "Not perfect, but we were productive. In the second half, I think we saw some guys getting a little tired."
Looking ahead — Portland will have a fresh Diego Chara and Dairon Asprilla against Dallas. Unknown is whether Williamson, Parades or Bravo will be able to return from injury for Saturday's game.
Timbers' next match — FC Dallas at Portland, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6 (FOX 12 plus).
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