The Portland Timbers ended their goal drought Sunday with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire at JELD-WEN Field, a first half goal from Eric Brunner and a second half own goal by Fire captain Logan Pause enough to overcome Jalil Anibaba’s equalizer shortly before halftime.
To Troy Perkins’ dismay, the home side couldn’t record a third consecutive clean sheet, but few others minded after a run of four scoreless matches was broken by Brunner’s tally, the first goal by a Timber since Kris Boyd opened the scoring in a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in mid-April.
The win sees Portland leapfrog the Galaxy in the standings, last year’s MLS Cup winners now propping up the Western Conference table as the Timbers pick up all three points for the first time since a win over Sporting Kansas City four matches prior.
That last win was also earned via an own goal by the opposition, and once again Boyd was instrumental in forcing the visitors to concede, his 52nd minute header deflecting off Pause into Chicago’s net to provide the margin of victory.
Boyd was active early, getting a head on to a Mike Chabala throw-in four minutes into the match, outleaping two defenders to redirect the ball to the far post, but Sean Johnson did well to parry the ball wide.
Boyd then took a turn as distributor in the ninth minute, laying off to Rodney Wallace, who tried his luck from a tight angle that caught Johnson off guard but unable to find the net as the ball rolled wide of the post. The early attacking forays were a signal of intent from the hosts, Portland not content to earn a shutout at the expense of scoring.
That intent soon came to fruition in the 20th minute, a corner kick from Franck Songo’o sailing over the box where it met the head of Hanyer Mosquera, who sent it back into the six yard box for the waiting Boyd. His back to goal, the Scot ambitiously attempted to connect with an overhead kick, his shot lacking the power to get in goal but possessing just enough bounce to find the fortuitous Eric Brunner, who volleyed home from inside the six yard box.
Brunner was newly returned to the lineup at after Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso was suspended by the league midweek, and the centerback wasted no time proving his worth with a well taken strike that saw him the unlikely hero to end the team’s goalscoring woes.
The Timbers Army let loose with a celebration long pent up, and the smoke had yet to clear when Darlington Nagbe nearly doubled the advantage after a long clearance from Perkins in the 22nd minute took one hop into his path inside Chicago’s eighteen yard box. Nagbe was clear on goal with a defender riding him, but with only the keeper to beat he snatched at the chance and put it well over the bar.
The near miss prompted the home support to laud their team with a rendition of the instant classic chant ‘Goals’, the homage to the recently passed MCA of the Beastie Boys serving as a new anthem for a crowd hungry for more as they hoped their recent famine could transform into a feast.
As the half wore on, Portland were perhaps fortunate when Mosquera came in to tackle a streaking Dominic Oduro, the referee allowing play to go on when it appeared the Colombian took more man than ball in the challenge. The replay vindicated the official, however, as it was Oduro’s own momentum that brought him to ground, perhaps looking too much for the foul rather than pursuing the ball into the box.
Chicago continued to press for a tying goal, and their first real opportunity came when Portland failed to clear a corner just shortly after the half hour mark. Mosquera headed away the initial cross, but only as far as the top of the box where Patrick Nyarko collected and fed back into the the feet of Pavel Pardo, who was inexplicably unmarked at the penalty spot. The Mexican did well to turn and fire, but Perkins was equal to the effort as he extended full stretch to tip the ball over.
Portland retaliated a minute later as Wallace sprinted to the endline to cut the ball back before it went out of bounds, but neither Boyd nor Nagbe could convert from close range. Both players would be ruing their profligacy moments later, the visitors pressure eventually too much to withstand when Anibaba capitalized on poor communication and errors by the defense.
Chicago’s Marco Pappa sent in a dangerous cross, one Lovel Palmer tried to clear as he stepped in front of Mosquera, who had a better angle on the ball. The resulting header spilled to the corner, where defender Steven Smith compounded the problem with a weak clearance upfield that went straight back to Pappa.
The Guatemalan didn’t waste his second chance, this time taking a long range strike that lacked accuracy and power but was fortunate to find Anibaba, who turned and unleashed a powerful shot that beat Perkins at the far post in the 39th minute.
A mere few minutes later, the Fire set up the next best chance to take the lead after left back Gonzalo Segares pushed upfield and made a nice overlap to receive a beautifully backheeled return pass from Nyarko, and Segares whipped in a perfectly placed ball to the head of Pardo, who had ghosted into the box. Brunner and Smith were mere spectators as Pardo took the free header, both relieved to see his effort miss the mark after slack marking provided the opportunity.
The tension mounted as the interval approached, and the handbags came out when Nyarko and Chabala collided near the corner flag. Nyarko was perhaps lucky to escape the altercation with no more than a yellow card as he put his forehead into Chabala’s face in the aftermath, but may not be so lucky should the league decide to mete out further action for the feigned headbutt.
The score level at the break, and now with no clean sheet to protect and the goalscoring monkey off their back, supporters held out hope that the boys in green could press forward and win the match following intermission. To help realize that hope, manager John Spencer made his first change, bringing on Sal Zizzo to replace the ineffectual Songo’o.
The move paid near immediate dividends, Zizzo speeding down the wing to latch onto interim captain Diego Chara’s pass before Segares cut him down, earning a yellow card for his cynical tackle and offering Portland a set piece chance from a prime location. The ensuing opportunity was for naught, although the opposition were put on notice that Portland were not interested in sharing the points.
That notice was served in the 52nd minute, a Zizzo corner finding Boyd at the near post, the striker’s header put on frame before Pause’s unfortunate intervention saw the ball deflect past a helpless Johnson. The opportune timing of the goal lifted an anxious audience, and the North End erupted again in a blur of noise, color, and a cloud of smoke.
Fire manager Frank Klopas tried to turn the tide back in Chicago’s favor with the substitution of Oduro for Federico Puppo at the hour mark, and less than ten minutes later inserted Rafael Robayo for Pause after Spencer brought on Jorge Perlaza for Nagbe.
Klopas made his last change in the 81st minute with Orr Barouch coming on as a third striker in place of defender Dan Gargan, but despite their desperation Chicago couldn’t change their fortunes in a match the Timbers seemed destined to win. On the same eve an eclipse put a ring of fire around the moon, the only stellar event visible in an overcast Portland was the 20,000 smiling faces encircling the extinguished Fire.
While Boyd would have preferred to score cleanly, the result is what the club was after, and he can rest easy knowing his contribution was crucial. The win gives Spencer similar confidence in the team, one that’s starting to find the right mix of scoring and stopping to provide the belief needed to improve.
A midweek exhibition against La Liga’s Valencia serves as a high profile prelude to a much more prolific encounter on Saturday, Portland’s first Cascadian derby against the Vancouver Whitecaps at the Fortress of Thorns. After Vancouver frittered away a late lead against Seattle Sounders in the opening fixture of the Cascadia Cup the weekend past, Portland enters the fray with a chance to gain the early lead in contention of this coveted prize.
If the Timbers can get things right again in their next outing, supporters can start to talk about a positive streak instead of the negative ones that have plagued them thus far. No longer playing under the weight of poor defending and poorer finishing, Portland looks to notch back to back victories for the first time this season and resume regular service in the Rose City.