In the sort of fixture that will raise the profile of the MLS, the Portland Timbers took full advantage of a rapturous home support to earn its first win of the season with a 2-0 win against a lackluster Chicago Fire. Amidst the media spotlight and a noisy and ecstatic JELD-WEN stadium, the Fire had hoped to spoil the party and bounce back from its defeat to Seattle last weekend. The Timbers, clearly desperate to earn their first league win of the season in its first MLS home match in history, were intent on sticking to their own agenda, however.
The match started in a high tempo with both sides looking to get forward as often as possible. The first chance of the match fell to former Manchester United reserve Kenny Cooper, who after getting past Cory Gibbs on the byline, saw his cross tipped to safety by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The resulting corner saw Johnson called into action again as the young ‘keeper made a brilliant outstretched save to deny a powerful drive from Steve Purdy.
And as if the action could not get any more pulsating, Cooper scored on the following corner with a header to send JELD-WEN stadium into raptures. Fortunately for the Fire, the ball was adjudged to have gone out of play during the outswinging corner kick, much to the dismay of the home side.
The Fire nearly capitalized on their good fortune in the 15th minute, Chaves nearly headed the Fire into the lead with a header off a corner kick but was unable to make solid contact and Nyarko couldn’t connect on the far post.
The match threatened to boil over a minute later as Segares tripped Cooper in the Chicago half, causing an ensuing melee after Cooper reacted angrily towards Segares. The Fire left back saw yellow for the foul, which replays proved to be nothing vicious. Not too long later referee Ricardo Salazar was being surrounded by Fire players who claimed Anibaba had been stamped on. With only eighteen minutes played, it was already becoming a feisty affair.
But as the match progressed, both teams started to settle, particularly the Fire, who sought to take control of the midfield. Logan Pause was instrumental for the Fire’s play, spraying the ball across the pitch and looking for the dangerous Pappa on the left wing as much as possible. Good work by the Guatemalan on the left wing saw the Fire awarded a free-kick just outside the box in the 25th minute.
The Fire looked to be on the front foot, but a defensive clearance would lead to a killer blow in when Kalif Alhassan found Perlaza’s run with an acute ball down the left wing, leaving the Timbers forward with a clear sight of goal. The Fire defense did well to track back, but a clever cut back by Perlaza left the goal gaping and he finished past Johnson to give the home side the lead. There was no chance of another goal being disallowed, as the Chicago defense was simply caught out by a good break from the Timbers.
The goal galvanized Portland, who took control of the match and attempted to get forward as often as possible. Their attacks paid dividends as a foul on the right side by Gibbs, which earned the defender a booking, resulted in another Timbers set-piece. The subsequent free-kick was half cleared by Pappa, but it would only fall as far as Rodney Wallace, who lashed a volley first time through a crowd of players and past a flat footed Johnson and into the back of the net. The Fire could do little do reduce the deficit before a disappointing first half drew to a close.
Carlos de los Cobos sent on Dominic Oduro and Marco Maric for Gaston Puerari and Mike Videira in hopes of inspiring a second half comeback. Just two minutes after the break though, things would go from bad to worse as any hopes of a win, let alone a draw, were washed away thanks to an unfortunate error in the back. Johnson misplayed a low cross and Perlaza was on hand to capitalize and punish the 21-year-old. Anything that was said in the locker room during half was certainly rendered useless after the forward’s second goal of the game.
The match threatened to become embarrassing for the visitors as Portland dominated and created several more good scoring opportunities, the Alhassan clipping the crossbar before Perlaza was unable to direct his effort on target after being played in on the left side.
Oduro nearly pulled one back for the Chicago after getting behind the Timbers’ defense only to be denied by a good save by Gleeson, his first real call of action. The Timbers continued to control proceedings, passing at will around the Fire penalty box and taking advantage of the physical prowess of Cooper, whose hold up play and footwork caused problems for the Fire all night.
Johnson’s nightmare was nearly complete in the 65th minute. A low cross from the right was once again miscontrolled by Johnson, bouncing into the path of Cooper who somehow failed to make connection a proper connection on the ball. As Johnson was still breathing a big sigh of relief, the Fire managed to pull one back on the other end of the pitch. A short pass from substitute Barouch to Pappa was somehow poked into the Timbers goal by defender Eric Brunner.
Mal Zizzo then ran the length of the pitch in a Portland counter attack, only to lay the ball off for an offside Cooper. Back on the other end of the pitch, Chaves, after turning his defender, had the chance to punish the homes side but his volley could only find the side netting.
Shortly after, an unlikely comeback was suddenly back on the cards thanks to an absolutely brilliant piece of magic by Pappa with nine minutes remaining. Oduro fed the ball to the midfielder, who then maneuvered in the box and curled an absolute pearler into the right upperhand corner of the goal. But while Fire fans began to wonder what could be, a giant goalmouth scramble saw the Timbers grab their fourth of the night.
The goal was deemed to have been turned in by Futty Danso. Regardless of who it went off last, it all but ended the Fire’s hopes of a comeback. The goal was brought into question by large protests by Fire players, who claimed Cooper used his arm in the lead up to the goal. Replays proved the Fire had reason to complain but there would be no changing the referee’s decision.
A big occasion for Portland and they should be applauded for living up to the hype. Meanwhile, the Fire will live to regret a very poor first half, particularly in defense, but can take heart from bringing life to a match that looked all but over.