The Portland Timbers looked good in the early going against Sporting Kansas City this morning, but once again gave up the first goal and were shut down by the hosts en route to a 1-0 road loss.
The match was hard fought from the start with both teams putting in strong defensive performances and not shying away from physical play. The Timbers appeared to be frustraited in the early going, epitomized in Fanendo Adi’s 10th minute yellow card. As he was running down the pitch, looking to receive the ball, Adi was dragged back by a bearhug from SKC playmaker Benny Feilhaber. As Feilhaber tried to pull him down, Adi shoved him to the ground and referee Ricardo Salazar, whose back was to the clash, whistled play dead at the behest of his line judge. The Timbers were awarded the free kick, but Adi was given an early yellow card.
As the match wore on, however, the proceedings began to open up, particularly along the Timbers’ right flank, where Lucas Melano was given free reign to get forward and put pressure on SKC.
That free role for Melano put a burden on Alvas Powell at full back, but soon started to pay dividends in chances created as the speedy winger repeatedly got in behind the SKC back line, looking to set up Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe with passes into the center of the box. Nagbe got on the end of one of those passes in the 11th minute and was able to fire off a first-time shot from just outside the box that forced SKC keeper Alec Kann to dive full out, barely getting a hand to the attempt and pushing it wide.
SKC had an early chance as well when, in the 20th minute, Connor Hallisey hit a low cross into the Timbers box. Keeper Jake Gleeson got down to block the cross, but was not able to hold it, leaving the ball to Amobi Okugo to clear away. The Timbers’ center back way able to swipe at the ball, but only got it as far as Feilhaber at the top of the box. With only a split-second to line up his shot, Feilhaber took it quickly, but could not put the ball away, instead slamming the shot off the crossbar.
After the break it was SKC who would open up the scoring. Earning a free kick out wide on the Timbers’ right in the 50th minute, SKC found themselves with a dead ball in a spot where they have been consistently dangerous this year. Feilhaber hit the free kick into the Timbers’ box, sending a hard, dipping ball in toward the head of Jacob Peterson. With the ball coming in quick, Peterson only needed to get a slight deflection on it and that is what “The Answer” did, redirecting the ball just inside the far post, past the dive of Jake Gleeson.
Now up a goal, SKC were emboldened and poured on the pressure, getting a series of chances. First finding Dom Dwyer in the box for a side-volley that Gleeson blocked away, then getting a header across the face of goal that Lawrence Olum almost put away only for Jake Gleeson to reach back against his momentum and just barely touch the ball wide of goal.
Gleeson would continue his heroics for the Timbers in the 60th minute, pulling off a brilliant double save to keep the Timbers in the match. First stone-walling a one on one chance from Dwyer, then recovering to lay out and block away the follow up from Hallisey.
Hallisey would have a chance of his own in the 83rd minute as he was played in on goal off a quick restart just outside the Timbers’ box, but again Gleeson came up big, laying out to snag Hallisey’s shot for his 5th save of the match.
The Timbers were almost able to pull one back in the first minute of stoppage time as they were able to find a break in the strong SKC back line and sprint down the pitch on the counter. With Diego Valeri driving at the SKC box, the Maestro hit a smooth ball to substitute Jack McInerney wide on the right. With the ball setting up perfectly, McInerney hit a hard, curling, first-time shot that had Kann beaten only to slam off the cross bar in the same spot as Feilhaber’s first-half attempt.
Despite throwing everything forward in the final minutes of the match, the equalizer would not come for the Timbers and the match would end 1-0 to Sporting.
The loss leaves the Timbers winless on the road and still in 7th place in the Western Conference.
The Timbers are back in action on Wednesday as they host CD Dragon in the CONCACAF Champions’ League group stage, then host SKC on Sunday in league play.