Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND– The Philadelphia Union came into Portland Saturday night and found themselves just one clearance away from taking all three points from the host Timbers.
But unfortunately for Philadelphia, they could not find that clearance, as Gaston Fernandez scored on the last kick of the match to steal a point away from the Union. Jack MacInerney’s goal midway through the second half gave Philadelphia a deserved lead, but it would not hold up as the teams ended in a 1-1 draw.
The newly acquired Fernandez rescued the Timbers when he found himself unmarked on a 93rd-minute corner. Brian Carroll deflected a quickly taken Will Johnson corner to the head of an unmarked Fernandez who sent the Timbers Army into delirium with one of the latest goals in club history.
“It’s the last kick of the game. I give our guys a lot of credit for pulling out a point,” Porter said. “You can look at it one of two ways, we lost two points or we pulled out a point. We’re going to build on the positive, pulling out the point. Because under the circumstances, I think almost everybody thought it was over.”
Philadelphia notched its goal when Cristian Maidana’s corner was headed home by McInerney via a Maurice Edu header. Maidana had earned the corner after he beat Will Johnson and took a shot that Ricketts dove to save.
After a 12-goal season in 2013, McInerney was able to pounce on the chance to start the season off with a goal.
“I was just kind of left open,” McInerney said. “We knew they played a zone on corner kicks, so I just stood in front of the goal and caused chaos.”
After giving up 15 goals from set pieces last season, Portland put an offseason emphasis on trying to prevent goals from corner and free kicks. But the Timbers were unable to prevent McInerney and Edu from getting open headers on Philadelphia’s goal.
“It’s definitely an ongoing process, it’s something we need to work harder at,” Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts said. “I think we know that and the players should do better and we will do better.”
While it was the Timbers who started four Argentines, it was Philadelphia’s lone Argentine in Maidana, who stole the show for the majority of the match. Numerous counters and Philly chances were created at the feet of Maidana, who was able to beat both Johnson and Chara on numerous occasions.
The Timbers best chance prior to the final minute was 90 minutes prior to the goal when Pa Madou Kah’s header in the fourth minute hit the post. That would be Kah’s lone moment of note for the match as he was subbed off for his fellow Gambian Futty Danso after sustaining an injury in the first half.
Portland may have had a 60-40 possession advantage, but the Union were able to create quite a few good chances, forcing Ricketts into four saves. McInerney almost put Philadelphia ahead after being sprung by Vincent Nogueira, but his chipped shot was saved off the line by Norberto Paparatto.
“We came in here and kind of gave it to Portland and they probably didn’t expect how good we were going to be,” McInerney said. “So it’s a good sign, we’ll keep playing games and we’re only going to get better.”
While both teams were still trying to fight off the early season rust, the Timbers captain Johnson believes that that had little to do with the result.
“I just think it’s desire, the guys know that everybody needs to look in the mirror and know what their job is and score goals And I think that goes for everybody on our team, especially on set pieces and in the attacking third, I don’t think it has to do with timing, I think it’s more desire,” Johnson said.
The match was the fourth and final of the opening Saturday that featured an intra-conference matchup, all of which hosted by the Western Conference team. Philadelphia was the only Eastern team to travel and take a point from the western foe.
“We played some really good soccer, we were organized, tough to break down…to get the lead and to give one up in injury time is a tough way to lose out on a couple points, but Portland is a really good team and for us there is just a lot to build off,” Union head coach John Hackworth said.
Next up for the Union is their home opener against Real Salt Lake next Saturday. Portland, meanwhile, will look to use Fernandez’s late goal as a springboard into their next match, when they host the Chicago Fire on March 16.