The Portland Timbers looked to have it all wrapped up.
Up 2-0 past the 75’ the Timbers seemed to be on cruise control and on the way to a win their final game of a ten-game homestead. Instead they must settle for a draw as the Revolution came clawing back to earn the 2-2 result.
“Two good teams that tried to play, that tried to get a result,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Unfortunately not everybody on the field was on that level.”
The Timbers came into the game playing in more of a 4-3-2-1 shape, better known as the “Christmas tree” formation. Early on Portland seemed content with soaking up a large amount of possession as the Revolution continued to press and win the ball higher up the field. This opened up the field for Portland who took advantage of some good transition moments as they grew into the game.
The first big chance of the game for the Timbers came in the 21’ when Jeremy Ebobisse beat his marker to the ball in the box. However, the young striker couldn’t generate enough strength as his shot was calmly picked up by Brad Knighton.
Just six minutes later New England had a dangerous chance and almost found a wonder-goal. Fouled at the top of the box, Gustavo Bou stepped up to take the free kick. He aimed for the far post and sent in a ball that skimmed the ground and took a deflection, but Steve Clark—who's momentum was carrying him in the wrong direction— was able to make a magnificent stop as he stretched out and pushed the shot off-frame with his left hand.
In the 39’ Blanco put in a good ball towards the back post that would have resulted in a tap-in from Ebobisse, but Michael Mancienne was there for the last-second sliding clearance. The Timbers would not get another chance of that quality for the rest of the half as both teams continued to exchange half-chances.
Right after halftime the impossible happened at Providence Park: the Timbers scored a goal. After going a few games with near-misses, Ebobisse finally found the back of the net in the 49’ for the Timbers. The play was sprung by Villafana who dribbled down the left flank before sending in a perfectly weighted cross to an unmarked Ebobisse at the back post. He made no mistake this time as he gave the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
Just minutes later the Timbers looked like they took a 2-0 advantage. Ebobisse got the ball in behind and turned the ball into the back of the net. However, it was waived off as the corner referee’s flag went up. Then in the 57’ Blanco got his head on a cross, but he wasn’t able to turn it on frame as the ball was eventually cleared by New England.
If the Timbers have seemed lackadaisical and out of ideas since that win over Sporting Kansas City, they seemed to make up for it on Wednesday night. As the game went on the Timbers seemed more and more alive as they started to win second balls while consistently finding themselves moving up and down the field with purpose.
Late in the second half is where the Timbers pressure really started paying dividends. Whereas New England spent most of the first half in the Timbers defensive third, the Timbers found themselves with the ball in the most dangerous areas in the second half.
The Revolution had its most dangerous attacking opportunity in the 78’ as a deep cross made its way to Bou in the box, but his powerful header was saved by Clark. In the 80’ Clark was called into action once again, tipping a powerful shot from outside the box just over the bar.
If the result was in doubt, the Timbers looked to put *most* fears to rest in the 81’. Once again the Timbers attacked the left flank and Blanco was able to serve a low cross into the box that Ebobisse put into the bottom left corner.
“As a forward in 0-0 games I put a lot of responsibility in myself, that’s how it should be, and it’s really hard on me,” Ebobisse said after the match. “So today to get back on the goal-scoring sheet, it felt great.”
But it’s never that easy, is it? Quick on the counter, Teal Bunbury played a square ball to Bou who tapped it in past Clark in the 87’. In the 89’ the Revs again almost found the back of the net, but Clark was able to collect the ball before any damage was done.
And deep into stoppage time things went from bad to worse for the Timbers. A foul call against Larrys Mabiala resulted in a late penalty for the visitors which Gil calmly stepped up and converted.
“Is it a PK?,” Savarese asked? “What about Jebo’s? Just saw it right now. Why is one a PK and the other one not? Why two extra minutes when they say four?”
“Let me stay quiet. There are many things I can say, but what I can say is that I’m extremely proud of my guys. They played very well today.”
While the late call stings, what makes it more painful is the time the penalty was awarded. The referee signaled for four minutes of added time, and the penalty was first given (before the VAR check) at 95:12’. After the game Clark shared his displeasure of continuing to play past the 96’.
“I was surprised,” he said. “It felt personal. I’ve never commented against referees in my career, but I was very surprised.”
As the boos cascaded onto the field after the final whistle, the gravity of the situation started to come into view. The Timbers may have exorcised their scoring demons on Wednesday night, but there is still plenty of work to be done if they want to make the playoffs.
“Today I feel like it wasn’t our day in that regard, but it’s been that kind of season, especially in the back half of the year, and we’re going to keep pushing forward,” Ebobisse said.
Added Savarese: “It’s about continuing to fight, continuing to move forward, but to finish with a very sour taste because today the guys deserved three points, and we found three points, so it’s just unfortunate.”