(Don Ryan / The Associated Press)
Timbers 2, Toronto FC 2
Draw, or a lost cause? In a disheartening replay, the Timbers watch a 2-0 lead disappear in the last 20 minutes putting their playoff hopes in peril.
(Don Ryan / The Associated Press)
PORTLAND — On a night of lineup tweaking, what the Portland Timbers desperately needed on Saturday was a win.
When they took a two-goal lead in the second half, it appeared that would happen. But a season-long habit of relinquishing leads late repeated itself, and the 2-2 draw with Toronto FC frustrated the Timbers and 18,627 fans at Jeld-Wen Field.
Toronto rallied with goals in the 71st and 81st minutes to earn the draw in a match the Timbers had touted as must-win.
A couple of smart plays by Diego Chara set up Portland’s two goals, a first-half shot from Eddie Johnson and second-half penalty kick from Jack Jewsbury. But they didn’t hold up as Toronto’s Peri Marsevic and Danny Koevermans answered with a pair in the final 20 minutes.
The tie denied the Timbers their first MLS victory at home since May 21, a stretch that has produced two ties and four losses.
This one was especially painful because Toronto (3-11-10) has been one of the league’s weaklings. Portland was hoping a win Saturday and on Wednesday against the L.A. Galaxy would spark a playoff push.
Timbers coach John Spencer called the result disappointing, and another example of his young squad not managing the game correctly. Spencer said the big error was continuing to attack at high speed when possession was more valuable to protecting the lead.
“Some guys have to be mature in the game. Tell guys to slow the game down, take the sting out of the game,” Spencer said.
There was no doubt about the sting from this draw. Portland (6-10-4) is running out of season, and Saturday had the look of a real opportunity against the worst defensive team in Major League Soccer.
The Timbers’ offense was assertive early in the game. With a bit better finishing, the home side could have had three early goals.
At the same time, the visitors could have had two themselves with a little better fortune. One of those was shot by Joao Plata that beat goalkeeper Troy Perkins but stayed out after hitting the post.
Seconds later, Portland had the lead. Sal Zizzo, whose speed was again effective on the wing, carried the counter-attack forward. He connected with Chara, whose quick touch set up Johnson for a right-footed shot from penalty arc that found the left side netting in the 23rd minute.
Portland missed several early chances to take command, and a couple of second-half opportunities to finish the job.
In the 10th minute Johnson ran free behind the defense and hit the cross bar from a sharp angle. In the 11th minute, Kalif Alhassan had time to settle and shoot from the left side of the penalty area, but pushed his shot well wide.
In the second half, Eric Brunner headed a corner kick off the post and Jorge Perlaza forced Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei into a late save.
“We’re going 90 mph all the time,” defender Lovel Palmer said. “Sometimes we just have to know when to settle the game down. We’re leading 2-0, they were chasing the game.
“But it comes with experience.”
In the end, Saturday added up to another big missed opportunity for the Timbers.
“We need to recognize situations where if we are under pressure we need to kill the game a little bit,” Brunner said. “Like coach said, we need to take better care of the ball when we’re getting pounded so that we’re not defending the entire time. Make them defend, make the ball move and have them get tired.”
Portland’s lineup featured a new-look backline, with David Horst starting in the middle alongside Eric Brunner and newcomers Mike Chabala at left back and Lovel Palmer (making his second consecutive start) on the right.
In the midfield, Jewsbury dropped into a holding position with Chara and Darlington Nagbe in front of him. Wing players Zizzo and Alhassan pushed forward at times flanking Johnson in the middle.
The result was an attack that was at times dynamic. But when they tried to sit back and hold the lead, the Timbers lost momentum, another lead, and a win they so badly needed.
TIMBERS 2, TORONTO FC 2
Toronto FC 0 2—2
Portland 1 1—2
First half—1, Portland, Johnson 1 (Chara, Zizzo), 23rd minute.
Second half—2, Portland, Jewsbury 6 (penalty kick), 56th. 3, Toronto FC, Marosevic 1, 71st. 4, Toronto FC, Koevermans 2 (Martina), 81st.
Goalies—Toronto FC, Stefan Frei; Portland, Troy Perkins.
Yellow Cards—Harden, Toronto FC, 39th; Chara, Portland, 45th+; Chabala, Portland, 51st.
Toronto FC—Stefan Frei, Ty Harden (Javier Martina, 69th), Andy Iro, Ashtone Morgan, Richard Eckersley, Julian de Guzman (Terry Dunfield, 62nd), Torsten Frings, Ryan Johnson, Joao Plata, Nick Soolsma (Peri Marosevic, 46th), Danny Koevermans.
Portland—Troy Perkins, Mike Chabala, Eric Brunner, David Horst, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe (Jorge Perlaza, 82nd), Kalif Alhassan (Kenny Cooper, 74th), Lovel Palmer, Jack Jewsbury, Sal Zizzo, Eddie Johnson.