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Portland Timbers start strong, hold on for 2-2 draw against Chicago Fire

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MLS: Portland Timbers at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers got off to a quick start against the Chicago Fire in today’s 2-2 draw, but the home side fought back twice to make sure that the Timbers only bring home a point from their fourth straight road match.

The Timbers took their first lead of the season in the sixth minute when they broke down the pitch after some early pressure from the Fire. Sebastian Blanco carried the ball through the Chicago half with a defender draped across his back. With Fanendo Adi making a run to his left and Valeri in space on his right, Blanco spun away from his defender and played a ball into the path of Valeri, putting the Maestro in on goal. As Richard Sanchez rushed out at him, Valeri calmly hit the ball over the slide of the Fire keeper, finding the back of the net.

Up a goal, the Timbers were able to put their stamp on much of the first half, controlling the majority of play but creating relatively few chances even as they limited their opponents as well.

The Fire had a shout for a penalty in the 33rd minute when Aleksandar Katai served in the Fire’s first corner kick of the match. The low set piece skipped into the box and seemed to deflect up into a group of Timbers players, prompting several Fire players to shout in protest, but referee Drew Fischer ultimately decided not to award the penalty after appearing to review the call with his video assistant referee at the next stoppage in play.

The Timbers came within inches of extending their lead in the 35th minute when they sent in a corner kick of their own. After Valeri’s corner was knocked down in the box, Adi was able to fight his way onto the bouncing ball and snap off a quick volley, only for Bastian Schweinsteiger to lay out in front of him and block the shot. The ball deflected away, but only as far as Blanco, who had space to stride toward the ball and crack a strong shot from point-blank range. Sanchez was there, however, and made a strong save, getting both arms in front of the ball and deflecting the shot up and off the crossbar to keep the scoreline at 1-0 for the Timbers.

The Timbers’ control of the match would not last, however, as the Fire came out swinging in the second half. Early pressure saw the Timbers pinned back in their own half, unable to possess the ball, and the chances began to come for the home side.

In just the 50th minute, the Fire broke through when Schweinsteiger wove through the center of the pitch, playing one-two passes off his teammates, before knocking the ball forward to Brandon Vincent wide on the flank. With the Timbers spinning from the rapid Fire ball movement, Vincent sent in a curving cross that just eluded the defense and instead found the boot of 2017 Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic who bundled it home with ease, bringing the score even at 1-1.

In the 55th minute, just as it looked like the game was in danger of slipping away from the Timbers, Giovanni Saravese’s men struck out on the break for the first time in the second half, working the ball to new arrival Andres Flores out wide on the wing. Taking the ball toward the end line, Flores hit a chipped cross back into the box and into the path of Blanco’s late-arriving run. With a group of flat-footed defenders around him, Blanco rose up and put a head on the ball, powering it past Sanchez and into the back of the net to give the Timbers back the lead.

As the half wore on, the Fire began to put on the pressure once again, but this time it took the home side until the 85th minute to pull equal. After a long period of possession in the Timbers’ half, Schweinsteiger again got on the ball, this time serving in a long, diagonal cross that found Vincent at the back post for a headed finish to bring the scoreline to 2-2.

The Fire almost got the go-ahead goal in the 88th minute as they looked to counter following a rare Timbers attacking foray. Sending in a curling ball, the Fire found substitute Alan Gordan for the header, but Jake Gleeson was able to get down low and push the ball around the post.

The Timbers have one last road game to wrap up the start of the season as they head to the Sunshine State to take on Orlando City SC next Sunday, April 8th.