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Misfiring Portland Timbers fight back to draw Orlando City SC 1-1

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Bennett Dewan

The Portland Timbers ran out their first choice XI in Thursday night’s match against a heavily rotated Orlando City SC side, but could only come away from the match with a 1-1 draw. Missed chances and a single defensive slip-up will leave the Timbers with a bitter taste in their mouths despite a hard effort to come back from going down a goal in the first half.

The match started with a scary moment when the Timbers sent an errant ball into the Orlando box and Brian Fernandez stuck a hopeful boot into the air just as Orlando center back Alex De John leaned down to put a head on the ball. The two collided and De John crumpled to the pitch in a heap. After several minutes of tending to by the Orlando trainers, De John was helped to his feet and escorted off the pitch, clearly shaken, and substituted out for former Timbers captain Will Johnson.

Once the teams had shaken off the early scare, the Timbers settled in and began to dominate the match, controlling the flow of play and mostly keeping the ball in the Orlando half.

In the 12th minute, the Timbers had their first bona fide chance of the match when a long switch found Sebastian Blanco out wide on the left flank. Taking a touch around his man, Blanco drove to the end line before cutting a ball back into the box that deflected into the path of a late run from Cristhian Paredes. As the bouncing ball fell to him at the top of the box, Paredes struck but could not keep the volleyed shot on target.

Then, in the 17th, the Timbers came close again. After receiving the ball at the top of the box with no room to turn, Fernandez dropped the ball into the path of Blanco, running off his shoulder. Blanco looked to split between two Orlando defenders with the ball at this feet, but could not get clear enough to put his shot on goal.

The chances continued to come and in the 23rd minute it was Diego Valeri’s turn to put a ball just wide of goal. After receiving the ball in space in the attacking end, Valeri took a touch toward goal and hit a knuckling shot that seemed to have the measure of Greg Ranjitsingh before taking a harsh swerve off target.

The Timbers kept the pressure on and in the 34th minute they came close again, this time off a corner kick. After Valeri’s service was deflected up into the air off an Orlando defender, the looping ball fell to Blanco in space on the far post. With a defender closing him down, Blanco lined up a volleyed shot, but could not make solid contact, sending the ball spinning off into space.

The margin of error got even smaller in the 37th minute when the Timbers broke out down the pitch and found Valeri wide on the left. The Maestro clipped a floating ball into the box that held up in the air just long enough for Sebastian Blanco to send a snap header toward goal. The attempt had the power to beat Ranjitsingh, but crashed into the crossbar then off the keeper’s back before being scooped up.

In the 43rd minute, the Timbers forced Ranjitsingh into his second save of the match. A flowing move on the left culminated in a flicked on pass from Zarek Valentin to put Diego Valeri in behind the Orlando back line. From the end line, Valeri found Fernandez in the box where the Timbers’ leading scorer cut the ball back and fired off a low shot that the Orlando keeper was forced to knock away.

Finally, in the 45th minute, the Timbers poor finishing came back to bite them. On a rare Orlando foray forward, Zarek Valentin attempted to usher a stray ball out of bounds, only for Lions winger Robinho to slip past him and win the ball away. Carrying the ball toward goal, Robinho drew Steve Clark toward him then squared the ball into the center of the box where Jorge Moreira stuck a boot out to knock the ball away, but instead placed it perfectly into the path of Santiago Patiño, crashing in on goal. Patiño struck the ball with his first touch, crushing it into the almost-empty goal and putting the visitors up 1-0 just before the break.

When the second half began, the Timbers came out swinging. A quick strike down the pitch in the 46th minute saw Valeri touch a ball on from the center of the field for the run from Blanco down the left wing. Cutting around a defender, Blanco hit a curling ball toward goal, but could not get the spin on the ball necessary to tuck it inside the post and instead sent his shot wide.

Where the Timbers had laid siege to Orlando in the first half, the second saw them look to tease the visitors out of their bunker and find an opening through which to strike. The result was a match that seemed to open up.

In the 51st minute the Timbers sent Andy Polo on the run down the right flank where the speedy Peruvian sent a low ball into the box, finding Fernandez running parallel to the goal line. As the ball reached him, Fernandez got off a quick shot, but could only send a spinning ball skipping slowly toward Ranjitsingh, who collected it easily.

The Timbers managed repeated entries into the Orlando box, but quality chances were hard to come by as the visitors remained stalwart in their defense.

The frustration from the Timbers was palpable as the clock continued to tick up and their opponents continued to grind them down. Misplaced shots turned into misplaced crosses, and misplaced passes, and misplaced tackles.

In the 70th, the Timbers finally managed to force another save from Ranjitsingh and began putting pressure on Orlando once more. A cross clipped into the box found the head of Paredes for a header toward goal, but Ranjitsingh was there for the stop. Moments later, after cycling the ball around the top of the box, Valeri found room for a hard shot from 20 yards out only to have it deflect off the back of a defender and out for a corner.

In the 78th minute, the Timbers came close again, sending a series of balls into the Orlando box before finally connecting with the head of Claude Dielna at the back post only for his header to fly wide of goal.

Finally, in the 82nd minute, the Timbers found an equalizer. After a sliding tackle from Valeri won the ball out on the flank, Moreira ran the ball down and whipped a cross in toward the near post that Fernandez flicked on into the path of Jeremy Ebobisse. As the ball flew toward him, Ebobisse put a stiff header on the ball, sending it kissing off the post and into the back of the net to finally pull the sides even at 1-1.

Although the Timbers threw themselves into the final minutes of the match searching for an equalizer, Orlando managed to weather the storm and claim a hard-fought road point.

The Timbers head to Seattle on Sunday for their second Cascadia Cup match of the season and first against the Washington side in league play.