The Portland Timbers extended their unbeaten run to nine league games today with a 1-1 draw at high-flying Atlanta United. Thanks to a first half goal from Larrys Mabiala and ninety minutes of hard nosed defending, the Timbers bring home a well-earned point.
Atlanta came out of the gates quickly, pressing the Timbers hard from the opening whistle, but a compact look from the visitors kept the league leaders in check long enough to find their feet.
As the game continued on, both sides settled in to their anticipated roles with Atlanta holding possession and the Timbers sitting back while looking for opportunities to break out on the countner.
The Timbers had their first such opportunity in the 10th minute when Sebastian Blanco carried the ball down pitch before sending it into the box. The ball eventually landed with Alvas Powell on the end line and the Timbers’ wing back, cast in a more attacking role than normal, cut a sharp pass back to find Diego Valeri arriving at the top of the box for a first-touch shot that spiraled just wide of goal.
After giving up the first real chance of the game, Atlanta redoubled their efforts in the attack and in the 21st minute the home side forced the first save of the night from Jeff Attinella. An overlapping run from full back Mikey Ambrose had the Timbers spinning, and the Atlanta full back served a dangerous cross into the box. Rising up above the crowd was Franco Escobar, putting a snap header on goal only for Attinella to get down and push the ball wide before it could sneak inside the far post.
Blanco came close to opening the scoring on another break forward in the 23rd minute. Again it was Powell playing provider after a quick jaunt up the pitch, cutting a ball back into Blanco’s path for another first-time shot. Blanco made good contact with the ball and had Guzan rooted to the ground, but the attempt crashed into the woodwork and away from goal, keeping the score at 0-0.
That scoreline would not last, however, and in the 32nd minute the Timbers got their break through. Off a free kick earned by Blanco in the Atlanta end, Valeri served in a dipping ball that fell nicely in the path of Samuel Armenteros. The Timbers forward stuck out a boot and got the slightest touch on the ball, forcing Guzan into an awkward save that spilled a rebound in the Atlanta box. With the Atlanta back line still recovering, Larrys Mabiala was on hand to cleanly head the ball home and give the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
As the game wore on, Atlanta pushed harder and harder on the Timbers back line and began to find regular chances to pull even.
In the 54th minute, Atlanta came close when midfielder Julian Gressel cut inside and cracked a shot from just outside the Timbers box. The shot took a slight deflection that put it just out of reach for Attinella and into the post where it deflected away from goal and was cleared out of the box.
With taste of blood in the water, Gressel would not be denied and just two minutes later was able to draw the match level. With Darlington Nagbe down injured on the pitch, Atlanta played on, pressing the Timbers back and keeping them trapped in their end. Eventually, the home side found Escobar and the Atlanta winger played a square ball into the center of the box. The ball was scrambled away thanks to a timely, sliding intervention from the Timbers back line, but it fell nicely to Gressel ten yards out. With a moment to collect himself, Gressel stepped into his shot, hammering the ball home and bringing Atlanta level with the Timbers.
The Timbers came close to finding a second goal late in the second half when Powell again got forward on the break. This time, Powell find himself with room to shoot, firing a low, back post shot on goal that forced Guzan into a sprawling save that spilled the ball into the box, only for the Atlanta defense to sweep it away before Armenteros could get a boot to it.
Then, in the 80th minute it was substitute Andres Flores coming close. After being played in behind the Atlanta back line by Diego Valeri, Flores went for an audacious chip from 25 yards out that had Guzan beaten but curled just wide of the post.
Atlanta came close to breaking the deadlock in the 82nd minute, when Héctor Villalba found the ball in space outside the Timbers box and hit a hard, dipping shot on goal that Attinella could only wave at before it crashed off the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
In the 87th minute, Alvas Powell slipped another ball across the face of the Atlanta goal, looking to find the run of Jeremby Ebobisse. The young Timbers striker managed to get some of the ball as Guzan and an Atlanta defender slid in to stop him, but the deflection could not steer the ball on goal.
The Timbers are on the road again next weekend when they will face off against the Seattle Sounders.