The Portland Timbers went to Costa Rica in search of the top spot in their CONCACAF Champions League group, but came home with nothing but bruises and the coins thrown by the crowd as they lost 4-2 to Deportivo Saprissa.
The Timbers struck first, jumping out to an early lead over Saprissa in the 5th minute thanks to one of the quick breaks down the pitch for which they have become known in Major League Soccer. With Diego Valeri and Lucas Melano combining on the run and Fanendo Adi providing hold up play inside the Saprissa box, the ball finally fell to Valeri. From just inside the box, Valeri corralled the ball and fired off a quick shot through the legs of a Saprissa defender, just picking out the inside of the far post for the opening goal.
The lead would not last, however, as the home side recovered quickly from the Timbers’ sucker punch, and went on the attack. Pinning a discombobulated Timbers side back in their own end and peppering the visitors with shots (and debris from the stands), Saprissa sent a series of long range shots in on goal, pinging several off the woodwork before finding the equalizing goal in the 34th minute.
Attacking down the Timbers’ right flank, where Saprissa would find joy all night, Daniel Colindres would beat Steven Taylor to a ball just outside the box and get to the end line before cutting a ball toward the center of the pitch. Ulises Segura would get the first touch on the ball, but it was a deflection off Jermaine Taylor that would send the ball past Jake Gleeson and into the back of the net, knotting things up at 1-1.
With the Timbers just looking to survive the first half, Saprissa poured on the pressure and in the 45th minute, moments away from heading into the locker rooms, they got their break through. Saprissa No. 10 Marvin Angulo got on the ball and drove at Ben Zemanski in the Timbers box, touching the ball away from the Timbers holding midfielder and drawing contact before going down to the turf, drawing a quick whistle from referee Yadel Martinez.
After earning the call, it was Angulo who stepped up to the spot for Saprissa. With a dip of his shoulder and a strong, swerving strike, Angulo sent Gleeson the wrong way on the penalty and bulged the back of the net with his strike, putting Saprissa up 2-1 going into the half.
After the half, Saprissa had lost some of the manic intensity with which they had grabbed the lead, but the chances continued to come, particularly from long range.
With the majority of the chances continuing to come their way, it was only a matter of time before Saprissa got another and it was in the 60th minute that the Purple Monster would push the score to 3-1. Quickly working the ball down the Timbers’ left flank, Saprissa found forward Fabricio Ronchetti in the box. With the Timbers rushing back to defend, Ronchetti was able to slip the ball between the legs of Diego Chara, get in front of Valeri, and hold the ball long enough to force Gleeson out of position, before ripping a hard shot just under the cross bar for the goal.
The Timbers were now down 2 goals, but they were not out of the match and would pull a goal back in the 69th minute. Getting Zarek Valentin forward into the attack, the Timbers found the full back in an advanced position on the right flank. Valentin, after taking the measure of the field, played a sharp ball into the box for Adi. The big man brought the ball down, turned with a defender on his back, and fired home a shot past the Saprissa keeper.
The comeback was not to be, however, as another penalty was called in Saprissa’s favor in the 74th minute. On a shot from the top of the Timbers box, Steven Taylor slide in for the block, only to see the ball clip his trailing arm and Martinez again whistle for the penalty. For the second time it was Angulo stepping up for the penalty and for the second time the Saprissa No. 10 converted, slamming home his chance for the 4-2 lead and sealing the game for the home side.
The Timbers return to Portland this Saturday to host the Philadelphia Union in regular season play.