Chicago Fire: Portland Timbers
An own goal in the 52nd minute proved to be the winner for the Timbers (3-5-3), who had played to scoreless draws in their last two matches.
"Maybe it wasn't pretty at times, but it was the three points that we needed," Timbers striker Kris Boyd said.
Jalil Anibaba scored the lone goal for the Fire (4-3-3), stopping a three-game unbeaten streak. The loss also snapped a two-game winning streak on the road for Chicago.
The Timbers were coming off a 0-0 draw at Houston on Tuesday. That followed a scoreless result at home against the Columbus Crew on May 5 and a 2-0 shutout by Montreal the week before.
The victory pulled Portland ahead of the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy for last place in the Western Conference.
Brunner picked up the loose ball after Boyd's flailing bicycle kick off a header from Hanyer Mosquera, firing it past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the early going. It was the first goal by a Timbers player in the team's last 446 minutes of play.
Going into the match, the Timbers were scoreless in 321 minutes -- the longest drought in the MLS this season. Portland's last score was an own goal against Sporting KC on April 21. The last Timbers player to score was Boyd on April 14 in a 3-1 loss at the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"You set the tone when you score the first goal, and that's what we wanted to do," Brunner said.
Chicago's Pavel Pardo was unguarded when he fired a shot at Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who leaped and grabbed it out of the air for a spectacular save in the 37th minute.
But Perkins couldn't get to Anibaba's rip into the corner two minutes later to tie it at 1. That ended Perkins' streak of 377 minutes without allowing a goal.
The match got chippy as the first half wound down, with Chicago's Patrick Nyarko and Portland's Mike Chabala getting into a shoving match that resulted in yellow cards for both players.
The Timbers went ahead on the own goal that came off the knee of Fire midfielder Logan Pause after Sal Zizzo's corner kick deflected off Boyd.
"It's a huge win," Perkins said. "It puts us real close to being in the middle of the pack. A couple of more results go our way and we're right in there."
The Fire continued to deal with injuries on their back line, with Arne Friedrich down with a right hamstring injury and Cory Gibbs out for an extended period after a meniscus tear in his right knee.
Portland was without captain Jack Jewsbury because of a pelvic strain. Midfielder Diego Chara wore the captain's armband against the Fire.
Timbers defenseman Futty Danso was serving a one-game suspension imposed by Major League Soccer for striking Dynamo forward Calen Carr across the head Tuesday.
Goals from Eric Alexander and Jorge Perlaza were too much for the Chicago Fire to overcome in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Portland Timbers in Carson, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon.
The loss was the Fire's first in five preseason matches. In fact, Alexander's score in the 64th minute marked the first time the Fire have trailed this preseason contests.
Chicago didn't lack for opportunity; Orr Barouch and Kheli Dube both put shots of the post in the shutout defeat. Perlaza's score in the 113th minute sealed the contest for the Timbers.
The first item on the Chicago Fire's wish list came true when the Portland Timbers played D.C. United to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday at RFK Stadium.
A Portland victory would have eliminated the Fire from postseason contention, and the Timbers (11-14-8, 41 points) had a 1-0 lead against United thanks to Kenny Cooper's 24th-minute goal. But league scoring leader Dwayne De Rosario of D.C. evened things up in the 73rd minute. Despite a frantic finish, neither side scored another goal down the stretch.
The Fire (8-9-16, 40 points) now have to hope for a loss by the New York Red Bulls (9-8-16, 43 points) when they host the Philadelphia Union on Thursday at Red Bull Arena (7 p.m., ESPN2). If New York posts a win or a draw, Chicago officially will be eliminated from the playoff picture.
The Fire also need New York to lose by a considerable margin. The Red Bulls have the goal differential tiebreaker advantage over the Fire, sitting at plus-five. Chicago is even.
The expansion Timbers swept the season series against Chicago this year, and Saturday marked Portland's first road victory after going 0-5-2 in its previous seven road matches. Chicago (2-6-12) has lost back-to-back games after falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy the weekend before.
"We knew it was a must-win game for us in terms of just mental preparation," Fire defender Cory Gibbs said. "We're not saying that our season is over. But mentally it was a game that we ... not had to win, but we wanted to win for our fans. It didn't go our way."
The difference was a questionable penalty kick call and ultimate PK goal by the Timbers' Jack Jewsbury in the 25th minute to give Portland (6-9-3) the 1-0 lead.
The Timbers' opportunity stemmed from Fire defender Gonzalo Segares who referee Elias Bazakos called for bringing down Portland's Jorge Perlaza in the box. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson guessed correctly and dove to his right on Jewsbury's PK, but the ball was out of his reach.
"When I saw the ball coming in I tried to poke it away," Segares said of the foul, which he felt did not include any incidental contact. "I know I felt it. I know I kicked it. The trajectory of the ball, I went inside when Perlaza was trying to come inside. The referee decided to call the PK. I'm very frustrated."
"Am I happy about it? No, but there's nothing I can do about it at that point," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "You live with that. Obviously I thought we could have done better before the opportunity got there."
The Fire nearly found the equalizer before halftime when a Gibbs header hit the far right post in the 44th minute. Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini took the corner from the left side and found Gibbs on the near side, but Gibbs' header was just off the mark and the Timbers' defense cleared the ball away.
"We set the play and Jalil [Anibaba] did well setting the pick on my man," Gibbs said. "I headed it far post, and I hit the post. Just unlucky."
The Fire had to play down a man for the final 30 minutes as Yamith Cuesta picked up two yellow cards in a span of six minutes and a subsequent red card ejection in the 63rd minute. Despite playing down a man, Chicago tried to push. Second-half sub Orr Barouch even hit the frame in the 68th minute.
But following the match, some boos were heard as Chicago could not pull even with Portland.
"We've not been delivering for them," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We owe everything to them. They have the right to boo us or whatever it is. We know we're putting our all out there, trying to get the result. In this circumstance it's tough with a man down and dubious calls like that."
Analysis: Gibbs' sentiment of it being a must-win moment certainly rings true to where Chicago stands at this stage of the season. The Fire had an expansion club that had not posted a road victory, and the Fire did not deliver at Toyota Park.
Gibbs and Barouch had their chances, and Marco Pappa was denied twice by Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins in the 90th minute and stoppage time. The Fire came close.
The Fire started relatively flat on the offensive side in the first half, and there just was no flow to their attack. Dominic Oduro's decision making was off the mark -- hesitating to shoot in situations where he should pass, and shooting when he had other options close by. Pappa was guilty of the same on a couple of occasions.
One positive for Chicago was Johnson's play in the net. He posted six saves in a dramatic difference from the first time the Fire played the Timbers and lost 4-2.
How it happened: Portland midfielder Jack Jewsbury netted a penalty kick goal in the 25th minute to give Portland a 1-0 lead. Fire defender Gonzalo Segares was called for a foul in the box against the Timbers' Jorge Perlaza, leading to the PK. Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins came up with two huge saves against the Fire's Marco Pappa in the 90th minute and then in stoppage time, with a diving save to his right on the first strike and a kick save on the second. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson had six saves.
What it means: Expansion Portland notched its first road victory of the season after previously going 0-5-2 in its other seven road matches. The Fire have posted back-to-back losses after going eight straight games without a defeat. Chicago falls to 2-6-12 (18 points) and Portland improves to 6-9-3 (21 points).
Outside the box: Fire defender Yamith Cuesta had an unfortunate stretch, picking up two yellow cards and a subsequent red card ejection in a span of about six minutes in the second half. Cuesta will now have to miss the Fire's Aug. 3 game against the Philadelphia Union.
Up next: The Fire take a break from MLS play over the next two and a half weeks and get ready for the Premier League's Manchester United at 4 p.m. on July 23 at Soldier Field (televised on ESPN2). The game is part of this summer's World Football Challenge.
It marked goalkeeper Sean Johnson's worst performance and a demotion behind Jon Conway. The Fire trailed by a season-high three goals at one stage. And the game included an own goal for each team.
The Fire hope for a complete reversal when they host the expansion Timbers for the first time this Saturday at Toyota Park.
"There were a lot of elements that went into that game," Fire captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "We not only dropped points and didn't play well, but it was their opening of the stadium. Both of us are fighting for points right now. We're coming off a good result Tuesday, so hopefully that will give us some momentum."
Chicago (2-5-12, 18 points) posted a 4-0 win over a majority of New York Red Bulls reserves on Tuesday in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play. Then the Fire brought in Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, who took an overnight flight and met the team for the first time on Friday.
Grazzini does not expect to play in Saturday's match, but the Fire hope he will take to the pitch shortly.
"He'll be a dynamic player who will help set up the guys in the attacking third, while also scoring some goals," Pause said. "And we've got a very young team, so he brings a vast amount of experience."
"I would have liked to have started on the same time and physical condition as my teammates," Grazzini said. "They're all in mid-season form and I am coming off a short tournament (the Clausura Tournament, playing for Club Atletico All Boys). But I've felt I've put in a lot of hard work in the last four weeks, even though I have been off. Overall, it is very difficult to join a team during the middle of the year."
Heading into Saturday, the Fire will be short a couple of players as forward Diego Chaves and defender Josip Mikulic each serve one-game suspensions. Mikulic was issued a red card from the bench during the Fire's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday. Chaves was issued a suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for his foul against Landon Donovan in that match.
The Fire should be able to compensate for those absences, though. Dominic Oduro and Cristian Nazarit are the projected duo up front, and Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs have teamed up at center back for much of the season. Gibbs is coming off a stomach virus from earlier in the week, but he has been training in preparation for Saturday.
Since the previous Portland match, Johnson has improved significantly in the goal. The Fire's loss to the Western Conference-leading Galaxy last week marked Johnson's only defeat since the Timbers game.
"I get to see him day in and day out, and he has great attitude, work ethic and commitment to get better," Pause said of Johnson. "I think you can see that he's back and he's playing with confidence."
The Timbers (5-9-3, 18 points) are in a tailspin, in the midst of a 0-6-1 skid and winless since a 1-0 home victory over the Columbus Crew on May 21. A promising start to the Timbers' season now finds Portland in eighth place in the Western Conference.
Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury and forward Jorge Perlaza lead Portland with four goals apiece, and Jewsbury has a team-leading six assists. Oduro and midfielder Marco Pappa lead the Fire with five goals each, and Patrick Nyarko leads Chicago with four assists.
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.