The Portland Timbers controlled possession and held the lead for most of their match against the Chicago Fire, but still ended the night uncomfortably close as they won 3-2 over the visitors. A brace from Brian Fernandez and a red card for the Fire were the highlights of a strange Wednesday night game in the Rose City.
The Timbers had a chance to open the scoring in the 9th minute after Marvin Loria was fouled in the Chicago end. Off the ensuing free kick, Diego Valeri sent a lofted ball into the Fire box, finding Sebastian Blanco in a press of defenders for a flicked header toward goal that skimmed just over the bar.
One minute later, the Timbers had their opener. A long, diagonal ball from Blanco found Loria in behind the Fire back line, in a footrace with Chicago keeper David Ousted to be the first to the ball. Loria got a foot to the ball just before the arrival of Ousted and the two collided, sending Loria sprawling to the turf, but before a controversy could ensue over the contact, the ball fell to Jorge Moreira in space outside the box. With Ousted still recovering, Moreira placed a curling ball over the recovering defenders and into the back of the net to give the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
The Timbers extended their lead in the 22nd minute off a poorly cleared corner kick in the Chicago end. After a Timbers corner was cleared only as far as the top of the box, Moreira slipped a ball toward the end line for Cristhian Paredes. Collecting himself, Paredes lifted his head and hit a low, curling ball across the face of goal for the run of Brian Fernandez who was lurking between the Chicago center backs. As Paredes’ pass skipped toward him, Fernandez lunged forward and made contact with the ball, sending it bouncing around the sprawling form of Ousted and inside the far post for the goal.
Things got worse for the visitors in the 30th minute when Aleksandar Katai was sent off for an elbow to the face of Julio Cascante. Attempting to hold off the Timbers defender, Katai struck Cascante in the face with one elbow then swung back with his other arm and made solid contact. The incident was not enough to stop play, however, and ultimately Loria earned a yellow card for his foul to get referee Silvio Petrescu to blow his whistle. After the foul, Petrescu went to the monitor to review the play and in short order returned with a red card for Katai.
After the card, neither team seemed willing to push the pace of the match. The Timbers seemed content to probe the Fire, looking for a clear opening, while the Fire seemed more intent on not being embarrassed than in clawing their way back into the match.
Blanco nearly put the Timbers up 3-0 in the 52nd minute when the Argentine playmaker found himself in space outside the Chicago box and let rip with a powerful shot that skimmed off a defender and forced Ousted to palm the ball up ad over the bar to keep the Timbers’ advantage at two.
The Timbers gave their visitors another scare in the 60th minute when Blanco fired a low cross into the Chicago box and found Fernandez sprawling out to get a boot on the ball. The designated player made contact, but could not put enough on the ball to redirect it around Ousted who got down and made the save.
Fernandez had another chance in the 65th minute after a quick break down the pitch and a loose ball in the box created mayhem in the Chicago end. At first it looked like Paredes would have a chance to put a shot on goal, but the midfielder scuffed his chance in traffic, instead sending the ball skipping out wide to Valeri on the left flank. The Maestro sent a low pass back into the box, finding Fernandez faced up toward goal. First carrying the ball across the face of goal, then cutting back onto his left foot, Fernandez hit a quick shot at the near post that skipped just wide of goal.
Valeri had a chance of his own in the 72nd minute. After recovering from a rare Chicago push forward, the Timbers kept the Fire penned up in their own end for a long spell before finally finding Valeri in space inside the box. As Fire defenders stepped to him, the Maestro got off a shot toward the near post that Ousted was forced to get down and save.
Not putting their opponents away conclusively would come back to haunt the Timbers in the 74th minute when, off a scrappy free kick, the Fire pulled one back. The visitors free kick was punched away from goal by Steve Clark, but with bodies all around him the Timbers keeper could not get the contact necessary to fully clear the ball. The attempted clearance fell to Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic at the top of the box, who powered an arching header over Clark and toward the Timbers goal. As it headed toward the line, Paredes was able to put a head to the ball but was off balance and could not keep it from crossing over and reducing the Timbers’ lead to 2-1.
The worry would not last as the Timbers scored their third in the 88th minute on a quick break down the pitch. The Timbers worked the ball out wide to Valeri on the left where the Maestro checked his run and played a square return ball into the middle of the pitch for the Tomas Conechny. As the ball reached him, Conechny helped it along, hitting a first time pass forward into the path of Fernandez, cutting in from the right. In behind the back line, Fernandez controlled the ball and hit a curling shot to the far post that left Ousted with no chance at the save before it splashed into the back of the net.
The insurance goal proved to be necessary for the Timbers as the Fire again pulled one back in stoppage time. This time a ball into the Timbers’ box found the head of C.J. Sapong for a flicked on ball to the back post that was just outside of the reach of Clark. The header hit the woodwork and spun in, pulling the Fire back within one, which was as close as the match would get before the final whistle.
The Timbers will be back in action on Sunday, August 18th, when they will host red hot Atlanta United and look to extend their unbeaten streak to three games.