By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Oregon – Three days after the Portland Timbers beat Sporting Kansas City in U.S. Open Cup, Kansas City returned the favor, knocking off the host Timbers, 1-0 at Providence Park Friday night. Lawrence Olum had the lone goal as the visitors withstood a major possession disadvantage to move into a tie for first place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.
Despite not having the ball for the majority of the match, Sporting Kansas City was able to score midway through the first half and held firm for the rest of the match. Olum, who played for the Timbers in the USL in 2008, pounced on a loose ball in the box after a Seth Sinovic long throw-in to score his second career MLS goal.
“We lost the first ball, we didn’t attack the ball, and we lost the mark on the second ball,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “It’s upsetting and very frustrating to concede that type of goal. It’s one of the most frustrating things as a coach.
While conceding the majority of the field, Kansas City was stout in defense led by center backs Aurelien Collin and Kevin Ellis. The duo combined for 26 clearances and 11 recoveries.
Despite having a 67 percent possession advantage, Portland had only three shots on goal and SKC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg was rarely threatened. Newly minted DP Fanendo Adi seemed to give the Timbers an early 1-0 lead after a Darlington Nagbe cross, but he was ruled offside.
In the second half, Portland was able to pass its way around the midfield, but couldn’t crack Sporting Kansas City, who committed 23 fouls for the match compared to the Timbers 10.
“You see it at every level when a team parks the bus like that. It’s a tactic that teams use,” Porter said. “I don’t blame them for doing it because it worked. They got three points.”
Adi, who was playing his first match since signing a long-term contract with the Timbers, was unable to put a shot-on-target for the the first time in his last five matches for the club.
“It’s very difficult,” the Nigerian forward said. “You can play against a team that played ten men behind and it was pretty tough. We tried to break them through long balls and through counterattacks, but we couldn’t make it.”
The clubs were matching up for the second time in four days with the Timbers posting a 3-1 at Sporting KC on Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup matchup. In addition to the quick rematch and numerous injured players, Sporting Kansas City was also without U.S. national-teamers Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. SKC listed only 16 players on its gameday roster.
It was the first time in Portland’s nine home games that there wasn’t a goal scored in the final 15 minutes of a match.
“We’ve relied too much on having to chase a game. And we’ve relied too much on having to pull out a goal late,” Porter said. “Sometimes you need to get punished to realize you need to change something.”
Portland, who will now travel to LA for an Independence Day match with the Galaxy, finishes the first half of its season with a 4-5-8 record and 20 points. Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile moves to 7-5-4 (25 points) and will head home to take on the Chicago Fire on July 6.
The loss was the second one suffered by Portland in its last three home matches. They had dropped just one of their previous 23 regular season matches at Providence Park, dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season.
“I take responsibility, I apologize to the fans, the supporters. They deserve better,” Porter said.