The Portland Timbers fell 2-0 to the Chicago Fire in the final match of the Simple Invitational tonight, giving up a pair of first half goals and failing to break down a surprisingly stout Chicago back line.
From the start the Fire came out with a tactical approach to the match that the Timbers found difficult to break down. Rather than facing two banks of four defenders, the Timbers were up against a five man back line, with a narrow group of three midfielders shielding them in the center of the pitch, while Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike hovered down the pitch, waiting to break out and push the Timbers' back line.
The defensively strong approach from Chicago paid off in the 28th minute as the Fire got down the pitch and found former Timber Michael Harrington out wide on the Timbers' left. Whipping in a curling cross toward the back post, Harrington found the head of Arturo Alvarez, who flicked the ball on, skipping it off the turf just out of the reach of Adam Kwarasey and inside the post for the goal.
The Fire struck again in the 35th minute, this time from a free kick. Following a foul in the center of the Timbers' half, Alvarez serves in a ball for Gilberto, streaking through the center of the Timbers box. With his defender on his back, Gilberto was able to chest the ball down and get off a quick, low-angle shot, slipping the ball just under Kwarasey as the Timbers goal rushed out to close him down and putting the Fire up 2-0.
Facing a strong defense and now with a two goal deficit, the Timbers pressed forward gamely, but continued to struggle at breaking down the Fire.
The Timbers came closest to getting on the board in the 75th minute when a bouncing ball got to Adi in the center of the Fire box. The Timbers' forward waited a beat for the ball to settle and hit a hard volley at close range, only to see Fire keeper Matt Lampson get down and stick out a strong hand, knocking the ball up and over the bar.
In reality though, it was the Fire who came closest to scoring the game's third goal as a staggered back line from the Timbers' defense allowed new Chicago signing John Goossens in on goal one on one with Kwarasey in the 66th minute. With the Timbers keeper closing him down, Goossens pulled the trigger on a hard shot, but Kwarasey made the miraculous save, getting both hands on the ball and pushing it wide of goal.
The Timbers next match will be the side's season opener on March 6th against the Columbus Crew at Providence Park.