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Friday, April 15, 2011
Timbers board up flustered Fire

By Charlie Corr

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Chicago Fire on Thursday.

For the host Portland Timbers, the expansion side had a dream start en route to their first victory, 4-2, over Chicago during their home opener in front of an enthusiastic 18,627 at Jeld-Wen Field.

The Fire (1-2-1) dropped their second straight match, and the Chicago defense has now allowed a combined eight goals in its past three league games.

Jorge Perlaza tallied two goals to lead the way for Portland (1-1-2), while teammate Rodney Wallace also tallied a goal for the home side. The Timbers jumped out to a 3-0 advantage early in the second half.

"We were making a big push to get the first goal [of the second half] on our end, but a couple minutes into the second half we gave up a third, which makes it a daunting hill to climb," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "We made a chase. We pushed it. We just really need to start learning from some of the mistakes we're making."

Marco Pappa had a goal for the Fire, and he was in the mix of the action during the Timbers' own goal in the 66th minute.

The Timbers built their 3-0 cushion, but in the 66th, Portland's Eric Brunner had the final touch for an own goal to cut Portland's lead to two goals. Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko's touch was deflected to second-half Fire sub Orr Barouch, whose through ball went toward Pappa. Brunner disrupted the play, but it went into his own net.

Then, in the 81st minute, Pappa had a curving left-footed strike to cut the Portland lead to 3-2. Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson got a bit of a touch on the ball, but Pappa's shot found the upper left corner of the goal.

Pappa's tally was a potentially huge momentum changer for the Fire, who had to withstand Portland's dominating performance up to that point. But in the 84th minute, the Timbers responded when it was ruled that Chicago defender Dasan Robinson tallied an own goal. Portland's Mamadou "Futty" Danso was near the massive scramble in the box as it initially appeared that he pushed Portland's lead to 4-2. Just before Robinson's mishap, the Timbers were fortunate that referee Ricardo Salazar missed a handball by Timbers forward Kenny Cooper as he challenged Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

On the flip side, the Fire dodged a bullet when a Cooper goal was disallowed in the 11th minute. Cooper initially thought he had the game's first tally off of Jack Jewsbury's corner kick from the right side. But the sideline official ruled that the ball went across the end line and came back in bounds, thus returning the possession to the Fire.

Portland overcame that non-goal as Perlaza scored his first goal in the 29th minute by cutting in between the Fire's Pause and Gonzalo Segares, shooting toward the far right post for a 1-0 lead. Wallace took a shot above the box in the 38th minute as his drive deflected off a Fire player and went into the back of the net for a 2-0 advantage.

Perlaza netted his second goal in the 47th minute as Johnson could not secure the crossing ball from Wallace from the left side.

Analysis: The Fire allowed a season-high four goals Thursday, and that total was deserving because of Chicago's lack of execution for much of the match.

The Fire were static such as Perlaza's second goal, when Perlaza was the only person to react to the ball popping away from Johnson. Chicago's defensive line stood flat-footed.

Chicago's positioning was scattered, even during sequences when Portland could not capitalize -- two instances come to mind in the 52nd minute, when Fire defender Jalil Anibaba was sucked into the center of the pitch while Timbers midfielder Kalif Alhassan was left all alone.

The Fire hardly possessed the ball. And Johnson has had a poor start to the season in the net.

With all of these elements battling against Chicago, that only meant the Timbers' confidence level grew with every minute.

Portland's home opener was a festive atmosphere and memorable event for MLS, but it marked a forgettable road trip for the Fire. The Fire have to quickly forget Thursday's match, remedy their play in the back and in the midfield, and focus on their home game against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday.

Dropping a third straight at Toyota Park would spell early disaster for a Chicago side that had a positive vibe through its first two games of the season.