After a strong start that lasted mere moments, the Portland Timbers could not hang with Atlanta United, losing 2-0 in a match that could have seen them take a home playoff berth but instead leaves them just barely above the red line.
The Timbers came within inches of opening the scoring in the 2nd minute when a long diagonal ball form Jeremy Ebobisse found Sebastian Blanco in stride, breaking down the right flank. Blanco brought the ball down smoothly and played a rolling ball toward Brad Guzan’s back post, looking to connect with the sliding form of Diego Valeri, but the ball rolled just out of reach for the Maestro and instead ran out for a goal kick.
The Timbers came close again in the 8th minute, breaking down the pitch after a period of Atlanta possession in the attacking end. A long clearance found the chest of Brian Fernandez in the center of the pitch and the Timbers’ striker was able to turn on his man, breaking toward goal. As The Atlanta defense collapsed on him, Fernandez knocked the ball out to his left, finding Blanco in on goal. After a quick touch, Blanco fired off a shot from close range, looking to smash the ball into the roof of the net but instead putting it up and over the bar.
While the first chances came for the Timbers, the first goal came for Atlanta as the visitors opened the scoring in the 14th minute off a corner kick. On the served in ball from Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, Josef Martinez managed to get a touch to the ball, sending it toward goal where Steve Clark hit the dirt to parry the ball away. The rebound did not go far, however, and it was Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was was first to it, smashing the ball home before the Timbers could react.
After a shaky couple of minutes and a number of misplaced passes, the Timbers managed to pull themselves together and begin to work their way back into the match.
Their hard work came close to paying off in the 27th minute when a spell off possession in the attacking end found Valeri in space outside the Atlanta box. With time to measure up his shot, Valeri let fly from twenty yards out with a skipping attempt on goal that forced Guzan into a diving save to push the ball wide.
Atlanta had another chance in the 30th minute on a break of their own. After some quick passes around the edge of the box, the visitors found Julian Gressel wide on the Timbers’ left where the winger received the ball and snapped off a no-angle shot at the near post that Clark turned wide of the post for a corner kick.
In the 40th minute Atlanta came close again. After Pity picked up a loose ball in space, the Atlanta playmaker lifted his head and hit a dipping shot on goal. The attempt had pace, but could not get back down under the bar before flying out for a goal kick.
Moments later the Timbers found a chance at the other end of the park when Blanco played a ball toward the Atlanta end line for the overlapping run of Jorge Villafana. Just before the ball rolled out, Villafana caught up to it and hit a curling cross into the box, finding Ebobisse at the top of the six yard box. Ebobisse rose up and put a head to the ball, but could not get the placement he wanted, putting the ball directly into the chest of Guzan.
In the final minute of the half, Atlanta were sure that they would have a chance to extend their lead after Pity went down in the Timbers box under a tackle from Bill Tuiloma that was nowhere near the ball. The assistant referee, however, waved no penalty and, after a consultation with the video assistant referee, referee Armando Villarreal agreed and none was given.
Finally, as stoppage time wound down, the visitors had one last chance to close the half out with a two goal lead when a turnover in the midfield saw Ezequiel Barco played in on goal. As Barco charged forward, Clark rushed off his line and slid just as Barco let loose a shot. The Timbers keeper made himself big as he hit the dirt and made the crucial stop, keeping his side within a goal as they headed into the locker rooms.
The Timbers would not remain within a goal for long after the break as, in the 46th minute, Atlanta struck for the second time on the night. Coming out of the locker room flat-footed, the Timbers watched as Gressel picked out Martinez on a scything run between the center backs, received the ball in space, and coolly finished past Steve Clark for his 21st goal of the season.
In the 58th minute the Timbers finally managed another chance on goal after falling into a cagey back and for for the first ten minutes after the goal. Receiving the ball in space on the left flank, Blanco hit a bomb of a shot toward goal. The dipping effort dipped down just in time to be on frame, but Guzan was there to put a paw up and tip Blanco’s shot over the bar.
The Timbers came even closer in the 65th minute off a quickly taken corner kick. After dancing around Justin Meram out wide, Valeri played a serving ball into the Atlanta box that fell nicely for the late-arriving run of Julio Cascante into the box. Cascante powered a header on goal, putting it off the turf at the goal line, but Guzan was up for the challenge, making a lighting fast save to preserve his clean sheet.
After a first sixty minutes largely dominated by Atlanta, the Timbers seemed to be back in the match, limiting the visitors’ forays forward and finding opportunities to put perssure on their opposition.
Despite that, the chances kept coming for Atlanta as they were able to get out on the break with the Timbers committed forward in the attack. In the 73rd minute United came close to making one of those breaks forward count. After a quick move down the pitch, Atlanta found Martinez on a curling run into the box that put him on the ball with a tight angle to goal. The reigning scoring champ brought the ball down and struck, but again Clark was there to make the save at the near post.
Valeri managed another chance from distance for the Timbers in the 81st minute. Taking the ball down in space outside the box, Valeri hit a serving shot on goal but his attempt did not challenge Guzan who snagged it out of the air and held on.
With tonight’s loss, the Timbers finish the weekend in 7th place in the West, with a game in hand on four of the other six teams above the red line. They will be back in action on Friday, August 23rd, when they will host the Seattle Sounders for the final Cascadia Cup match of the 2019 season.