PORTLAND — The hole got a little deeper for the Portland Timbers on Saturday.
And it happened quickly.
Sporting Kansas City continued its midseason run, scoring twice in the first 20 minutes to win 2-1, sending Portland to its fifth loss in six games, and disappointing the 18,627 fans at Jeld-Wen Field.
Not even an artistic strike from rookie Darlington Nagbe for his first professional goal could erase a feeling of frustration for the home side.
The Timbers (5-8-3) have five losses and a tie in their last six games. They haven’t won since May 21 and any early-season magic is pretty much forgotten.
Sporting Kansas City (5-6-5) is enjoying the other swing of the pendulum, unbeaten in nine straight with five wins. With a run of home games ahead Kansas City can think about a playoff push.
Next up for the Timbers — after a Thursday friendly with Mexico’s Club America — is a visit by the Sounders FC. The Timbers left the field on Saturday to a “Beat Seattle” chant from the Timbers Army.
But the team won’t carry momentum in to that match.
As anticipated, there were a couple of lineup changes for the Timbers on Saturday, with Eddie Johnson starting in place of Kenny Cooper at forward and Steve Purdy returning to start at right back.
But that didn’t keep the Timbers from another shaky start.
The first goal came from a strong individual play by rookie forward C.J. Sapong. He controlled a pass with his back to goal 30 yards out, shrugged off Portland defender Eric Brunner and charged into the 18-yard box to drive a shot inside the left post in the 15th minute.
The second goal came from a throw-in from Matt Besler that bounced to Aurelien Collin for a 12-yard finish in the 19th minute.
Captain Jack Jewsbury, who was traded to Portland after eight seasons with Kansas City, said he was just a half-step from denying that chance, and should have been in better position to defend the throw-in.
As Collin celebrated, the Timbers gathered in a demonstrative huddle. Jewsbury declined to repeat what was said.
“Obviously, there were some choice words,” he said.
Johnson, the English forward who was one of the Timbers first signings, got his first start in place of the team’s most notable preseason signing, Cooper. It was the first time this season that Cooper has started a league game from the bench. Johnson was held to one shot.
Cooper entered for Johnson in the 67th minute, and had a chance immediately. But his header from 6 yards at the end of some corner-kick ping pong went directly to KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen for one of his two saves.
Steve Purdy, who recently returned from the El Salvador national team for the Gold Cup, replaced Jeremy Hall as the starter at right back. As was the case early in the season, Purdy demonstrated he can get up the field on overlapping attacks.
But Nagbe’s wow goal in the 44th minute was the only real highlight for the home team.
After juggling the ball, Nagbe put his foot to the ball from the right side of the 18-yard box and delivered a strike that breathed life into Jeld-Wen Field.
Nagbe, the second overall selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, said his first idea was to strike the ball first-time, but it fell in such a way that he juggled the ball with his foot then struck it before it hit the ground.
“It feels great (to score),” Nagbe said. “I’m just going to try to build on it. Hopefully, we can win the next game. Everything feels better when you’re winning.”
Early in the second half, Jorge Perlaza had two quality chances. Nielsen saved one and the other went just high.
In the 89th minute, Jewsbury’s 25-yarder skipped just wide of the left post.
“It was close,” Jewsbury said. “I would’ve liked to have put it on frame because I think (Nielsen) was going the other way.”
Like everything for the Timbers recently, Jewsbury’s shot just a bit off.
“A couple months ago ... the bounces were going our way,” the captain said. “We’ve got to continue to fight, continue to work hard for one another knowing that’s the only thing that’s going to get us out of this rut.”
The next league match is next Sunday against Seattle. The rivalry game has been sold out for months.
Plenty of tickets remain for Thursday’s exhibition match against Mexico’s Club America. The match is not part of the season-ticket package.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY 2, TIMBERS 1
Sporting KC 2 0—2
Portland 1 0—1
First half—1, Sporting Kansas City, Sapong 3 (Bravo), 15th minute. 2, Sporting Kansas City, Collin 2 (Sapong), 19th. 3, Portland, Nagbe 1 (Jewsbury), 45th.
Goalies—Sporting Kansas City, Jimmy Nielsen; Portland, Troy Perkins.
Yellow Cards—Purdy, Portland, 60th; Jewsbury, Portland, 64th; Collin, Sporting Kansas City, 71st; Nielsen, Sporting Kansas City, 90th+.
Referee—HIlario Grajeda. Assistant Referees—Anthony Vasoli. Colin Arblaster. 4th Official—Drew Fischer.
Sporting Kansas City—Jimmy Nielsen, Michael Harrington, Aurelien Collin, Julio Cesar, Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Milos Stojcev (Kei Kamara, 72nd), C.J. Sapong (Teal Bunbury, 90th+), Omar Bravo (Birahim Diop, 82nd).
Portland—Troy Perkins, Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Steven Purdy, Darlington Nagbe (James Marcelin, 78th), Rodney Wallace, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan (Sal Zizzo, 72nd), Jack Jewsbury, Eddie Johnson (Kenny Cooper, 67th), Jorge Perlaza.