PORTLAND — The last MLS match for the Portland Timbers before an extended break encapsulated the exasperation and exhilaration of the first half of the season.
The Timbers scored two late goals, another dramatic finish that salvaged a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas on Wednesday at Providence Park.
The late heroics were necessary because the defense again was unable to keep a visitor from jumping to a lead, as FC Dallas scored twice before halftime.
“You saw the first half. It was poor,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “We let, as a unit, their attacking guys run all over us. Individually we didn’t make plays. “
A win would have pushed the Timbers into a share of third place in the Western Conference. Instead, Portland’s eighth draw of the season leaves the Timbers (4-4-8) sixth with 20 points 16 games into the 34-game schedule.
“We think with this group of players we should be higher and we should have more points, so there’s still a lot of work to do. But nobody feels like this is a lost season. Nobody feels like we’re done,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “Once we do get this thing rolling for real and get all the games played, we’ll be tested mentally a lot more than most teams, so I think that will play into our favor.”
If Portland is really going to make a significant push in the second half, it will have to eliminate the defensive blunders that have been frequent.
“We’ve got to get guys in there that are confident and assertive, that are going to boss the (back) line. Guys that are going to make plays, and guys that are going to shut down good attacking players,” Porter said.
The starting back four on Wednesday had Michael Harrington on the right, Rauwshan McKenzie and Pa Modou Kah in the middle, and Jorge Villafana on the left. At halftime, Danny O’Rourke replaced McKenzie.
Dallas’ second goal — a 39th-minute strike from Blas Perez — was particularly glaring.
After a sliding tackle to disrupt a Portland attack at the edge of the Dallas 18-yard box, Tesho Akindele raced the length of the field with the ball. From deep on the right wing, he sent a diagonal pass back through the penalty area that the open Perez drove past Ricketts.
“A play like that, there’s five or six mistakes that were made. And that’s how goals are scored. It’s not usually just one mistake — it’s five or six mistakes were made on that play,” Johnson said. “We lost track of guys in the box. You get burned at this level with guys like Perez who can score goals.”
In the 27th minute. Fabian Castillo scored after collecting a deft chip pass from Perez and turning a low shot from the right of goal into the left side netting, giving Dallas a 1-0 lead against the flow of play.
The Portland goals were a 79th-minute penalty kick by Johnson and an injury-time finish by Kah. Johnson’s PK, his second in as many games, came after Fanendo Adi was tripped in the penalty area — and after Johnson and Gaston Fernandez had an animated discussion about who would take the spot kick.
“It’s two passionate guys going for the ball, wanting to do the right thing for the team,” Johnson. “Once we got back in (the locker room) I gave him a big hug. I respect him as a teammate. I think he’s a great addition to this club, so I can’t speak highly enough about him and when he came on he brought a big spark.”