The Portland Timbers took on the new look Chicago Fire and for 60 minutes they had the game in hand. In the last thirty minutes of the game they gave possession away and then gave away the two points.
Right from the opening whistle the Timbers were relentless in their pursuit of the opening goal. Their passing was crisp and they all had extra pep to the step. When they did not have the ball they held a high line and pressure Chicago's backline in order to turn them over higher up the field and to create chances quickly.
The relentless pressure led to the Portland Timbers hitting the post three times within the first 10 minutes. Two of those shots came in consecutive shots by Frederic Piquionne and Diego Chara. Once Portland wasn't able to score the game settled into a rhythm like most games do. In this case it was Portland possessing the ball and the Fire trying to clog the passing lanes.
To clog the passing lanes Chicago's forwards tried to funnel the passing to either the outside backs or into the middle where Jeff Larentowicz could apply pressure. For a while the strategy worked as Portland's center backs could only pass it long to the forwards or out to the covered wings. However it only worked as long as Chicago could keep Piquionne from winning the long balls.
When Chicago failed and Piquionne was able to get on the end of a long Milos Kocic kick the Timbers opened the scoring. Piquionnes perfect flick on to Diego Valeri and he was able to cut the ball back to his right foot. His shot was perfectly placed near post, in fact it was so perfect that it kissed the inside of the post and finally touched the net on the opposite side.
Defensively the Portland Timbers looked shaky, especially on the wings as Chicago's speedy wings exploited the lack of speed of the outside backs. While the outside backs did have their hands full most of the time the cross was blocked and it would go out for a corner kick.
In the second half the Portland Timbers were finally able to play the ball through the middle. It usually took the one or two passes to break down the first line of Chicago but once they did Portland looked dangerous. On such occasion came in the 58th minute.
Valeri received the ball near the touch line and hit a perfectly weighted through ball to Piquionne, who timed his run well to get behind the defense. Once behind the defense Piquionne attacked the end line and instead of crossing the ball into a congested box he dropped the ball back to the top of the box. Ben Zemanski arriving late hit the ball in stride and curled it around the out stretched arms of Sean Johnson.
With a comfortable lead the Timbers seemed content to pass the game away. However some of the passes were a little sloppy and the defense looked shaky. Chicago forced a turnover at midfield and then hit a long through ball to Mike Magee. Andrew Jean Baptiste was caught out of position but recovered to cut of Magee's run. However his momentum, as well as a helpful shove from Magee, took him into Kocic and dislodged the ball.
Magee now found the ball at his feet and an open goal in front of him. It was an easy goal and one that immediately energized the crowd and the home side. The Timbers on the other hand looked like they were scrambling and thinking about not losing this game.
Chicago's pressure just kept coming. They won corners, free kicks but every time they did Portland was able to clear the ball and keep Chicago from getting a shot on target. However, any time you allow a team that many chances one is going to finally be on frame.
AJB was once again involved in the lead up to a goal. Mike Magee received the ball 25 yards out and instead of just standing him up AJB elected to try for a tackle. Magee just got a touch on the ball before AJB got to it and the referee blew the whistle for the foul. The free Kick easily cleared the wall and found the back of the net for Chicago's second.
Portland now had to weather 7 more tense minutes as Chicago had all the momentum and a believe they could score a third. Portland did weather the storm and instead of leaving the game with a full three points they have to settle for what felt like a loss and only a point.
- The Portland Timbers have lessons to learn from this game. Caleb Porter put it best:
"The fact that we can learn a lesson without losing a game, I think it's a very positive thing, It'll make us a better team. Feels like a loss but it isn't, which is great. A lot of teams have to take losses to learn lessons, and we are learning lessons while getting points. So I think it's a positive thing."
- Sal Zizzo looked lost and although he had one positive run he looked like he needed more time in the reserve games.
- AJB had two boneheaded plays that cost the Timbers 2 goals. I really hope he learns from this game.
- Amazing to think that despite how we might feel after this game the Timbers are unbeaten in 12 games and still have not lost on the road. If I remember a stat right the road streak is the 5th longest in MLS history.
- Zemanski looked decent at times but looked out of position at others. He looks out of control sometimes.
- The Timbers are a good team but Great teams would have put their foot on Chicago's throat and not allowed two goals.
- I really wish Valeri was 90 minutes fit. Whenever he starts and then gets subbed out the Timbers look lost.