Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- For the second consecutive week, an Eastern Conference team struck first against the host Portland Timbers. And for the second consecutive week, the home side was able to earn a draw courtesy of a Gaston Fernandez goal.
Fernandez’s goal gave the Timbers a 1-1 draw with the visiting Chicago Fire, Sunday afternoon at Providence Park. Jeff Larentowicz scored on a early penalty kick for Chicago, who earned their first points of the season.
An offseason addition from Argentina, Fernandez again played the hero notching the equalizer for the Timbers. After Sean Johnson saved a Darlington Nagbe shot, Fernandez found himself unmarked for the easy finish. With the goal, the former Estudiantes player became the first MLS Timber to score in the first two matches of a season.
“For goalscorers, the ball seems to find them and that’s twice now that the ball has found him in a good spot and it’s two tap-in goals,” Porter said.
While Portland was able to earn the draw, it was the Fire who controlled the play in the first half. Quincy Amarikwa found space on more than one occasion and eventually set up Larentowicz’s penalty kick goal. Larentowicz sent Ricketts the wrong way and gave the Fire the lead. The penalty kick was set up by Amarikwa, who shielded Nicolas Paparatto from the ball and was then felled by the Argentine centerback.
For the Timbers, it was a disappointing start to the match and similar to their situation against the Philadelphia Union last week.
“We all realize that we are better than that,” Jack Jewsbury said about starting slowly at the beginning of matches. “If we can correct that little thing that is becoming a big thing then we’ll be fine because with the group and the talent we have in this locker room, as you saw in the second half, it’s tough to stop us when we’re rolling like that.”
Unlike last week’s match, the Timbers came out strong right after halftime, firing 11 shots on Chicago’s net in the second half with one goal and forcing three Sean Johnson saves in the final 45.
“I lit a fire under them at halftime and you saw the response,” Porter said. “I don’t want to have to rely on that, though. They shouldn’t rely on me to get their games better and they know that.”
The match also seemed to turn in the Timbers favor when Steve Zakuani was substituted in for Maxi Urruti in the 60th minute. Zakuani, who did not play at all in the preseason due to injury, gave Portland room to work with on the widths, while also creating space for Fernandez and Nagbe.
“I’m 100 percent, I feel good,” Zakuani said. “If I’m on the bench, I’m ready to play. I wouldn’t be on the bench, if I’m only 50 percent fit.”
A Zakuani run led to a bad misplay by Sean Johnson and his backline that almost led to a Will Johnson goal midway through the second half, but the Timbers captain’s shot rolled inches wide.
“I think I missed the easiest one of all, so I have to apologize to my teammates and to the fans as well, because when you get in those spots, you take that responsibility, you put it on your shoulders, and you make a play for your team,” Will Johnson said. “When you don’t, you let the team down.”
Patrick Nyarko, who came on as a second half sub, received two yellow cards despite playing just 22 minutes for the Fire. While Chicago finished the match with ten men, Portland was unable to put a shot on target late in the match.
The result was a positive for the Fire, who lost at Chivas USA to start the season last week. Chicago almost left Portland with the full three points after Bakary Soumare found himself open at the far post on a Harrison Shipp free kick. Ricketts, however, made a diving attempt to close down Soumare and made the save.
“We got a lot of time left in the season, but if you don’t start to get that right you start to fall further and further and put yourself in a tough spot,” Will Johnson said. “It’s something we need to get right quickly.”
Portland now heads on the road for the first time this season with a match at the Colorado Rapids Saturday. Chicago, who was without 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee for Sunday’s match, will play their home opener on March 23 against the New York Red Bulls.