PREAMBLE: Read my preview of this match here. The basic gist: the Chicago Fire without Mike Magee is a little bit like the Portland TrailBlazers if Terry Stotts decided to drop LaMarcus Aldridge in favor of Meyers Leonard. Except the Blazers also have Damian Lillard. That's what Portland fans will see, denying them the only chance to see the MLS MVP this season.
Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers are still figuring out how to play with the new signing Gastón Fernández*. With both Fernández and Maxi Urruti in the side, the Timbers' star playmaker Diego Valeri has players with whom he can exchange quick, clever passes. Last year's starters were Rodney Wallace and Ryan Johnson, both players whose game was more based on physicality and speed than subtlety and craft. That physicality meant they pulled defenders out of position to make space for Valeri.
Valeri now has men who can play his brand of soccer around him, but even with the expanded field at what's now known as Providence Park, he has less space in which to play them. At least until the Timbers get their system together.
*I'm not promising accent marks throughout the entire match. In fact, I'm promising I'll forget them at some point.
What did these teams do last week:
Chicago: Loss. 3-2 away to Chivas USA. Fall embarrassingly behind to the league's resident abomination. Mount a two-goal comeback against a team that has to pay television networks to take the rights to telecast its games. Lose in the final minutes against a team that desperately trying to jettison its stadium, its town, its identity.
Portland: Draw. 1-1 at home to Philadelphia Union. Play a harmless, short, sideways pass for every atom in one of the raindrops falling on their home field. Create a statistically insignificant number of goalscoring chances. Pass up opportunities to shoot. Allow the Union to score from a corner. Snatch a last-minute equalizer to rescue a point.
Portland: Ricketts; Jewsbury, Paparatto, Danso, Harrington; Chara, Johnson; Nagbe, Valeri, Fernández; Urruti. Bench: Weber, McKenzie, Powell, Zemanski, Nanchoff, Zakuani, Piquionne
Chicago: Johnson; Palmer, Hurtado, Soumare, Segares; Larentowicz; Joya, Alex, Watson, Shipp; Amarikwa; Bench: Reynish, Cochrane, Ianni, Pause, Pineda, Nyarko, Anangono
The only change in the Timbers' team is that Futty Danso replaces the injured Pa Modou Kah in the starting lineup. Chicago has replaced four players from the Chivas USA game. Matt Watson, Harrison Shipp, Benji Joya and Quincy Amarikwa come in for the four most attacking players against Chivas USA. Patrick Nyarko and Jose Luis Anangono drop to the bench, while Chris Rolfe and Dilly Duka aren't even in the squad.
11.50. As a former wildland firefighter, I've been very concerned about the matchup between Timbers and Fire. This is a banner that resonates with me.
5 min: The first good opportunity of this half involves Amarikwa gliding up the line and cutting the ball back for a teammate, but the result is a pretty sad miscue.
6 min: The Chicago Fire has put all its right-back eggs in the Lovel Palmer basket, which seems risky given that he has never really looked like a good soccer player, athletic though he may be. Palmer attempts a puzzling stepover to give himself the space to send a 40-yard pass back to keeper Sean Johnson.
10 min: Chicago's Alex finesses a long ball out of the air with a tender caress of a touch that puts him out of Futty Danso's reach, then flashes a dipping half-volley just over. Portland should be wary of Alex. He has quality.
14 min: Darlington Nagbe decides to humiliate Palmer for old times' sake, trying to carry a cleared ball into Chicago's half and dinking it over his former teammate's head. It doesn't come to anything, but it was a cute little move.
15 min: Chicago's Benji Joya is one of the most promising young Americans. Here's a New York Times article about how promising he is. He shows some of his talent with a beautiful volleyed first-time pass up the Timbers' right wing to set Amarikwa through on goal. Amarikwa, though, looks a little nervous and shoots high and early.
20 min: PENALTY called. Norberto Paparatto misses the ball trying to step past Amarikwa, then throws him to the ground.
GOAL!!! Portland 0-1 Chicago (Larentwicz 20'). Jeff Larentowicz squares up and casually strikes the ball to Donovan Ricketts' left. Aghast silence descends in Providence Park.
21 min: Now apparently very nervous, Paparatto tries to split the Fire defense apart with a 70-yard pass out of defense. The problem is, nobody was making a run up the wing. It was a clumsy penalty to give away. Paparatto more or less lay down on top of Amarikwa. Now the Timbers have a corner.
23 min: Chicago keeper Sean Johnson wallops Will Johnson's corner miles out of the box. It was one of the most emphatic punches I've ever seen from a keeper, like something out of Street Fighter.
24 min: Chicago has actually looked more fluid and confident so far. Alex looks like a dangerous player and Joya has showed flashes of touch and imagination.
28 min: Now Futty Danso tries his hand at a nervous high ball, but rather than the wing, he goes for the center circle, a risky place for it. The result is a soft foul on Bakary Soumare by Maxi Urruti, who has not really been a factor in this game.
30 min: Diego Chara makes a breathtaking steal in the D outside Portland's penalty area, flying in, pirouetting around Harry Shipp as he's about to shoot, and stealing the ball in the process.
31 min: Chara passes the ball to himself, using Paparatto's forehead as a backboard. In the process, Amarikwa suplexes the Timbers defender onto the turf and the Timbers get a free kick.
33 min: Alex again turns on the skills, tiptoeing along the byline with the ball, whirling around Michael Harrington and then drawing a foul from Will Johnson. Unlike Alex, the Timbers' South American shaman Diego Valeri is nowhere to be seen.
34 min: Nagbe makes one of the most balletic defensive plays I've ever seen in soccer. He tries to hack Amarikwa down outside the area, misses, then chases the Fire striker down inside the Timbers' penalty box. When he catches up to Amarikwa, he puts his foot on the ball without touching him, then turns 240 degrees on it to dribble away. The stadium's reaction was hushed astonishment.
37 min: And as soon as I've said something, Valeri starts to try some of his party pieces. First there's a sly flick off his left insole to lay the ball back to Diego Chara. Larentowicz and Joya are closing in on him and, just as they're close enough for him to smell their breath, he makes the ball disappear into thin air, becoming the meat in a comical sandwich and drawing a foul.
38 min: Will Johnson corkscrews his back in midair to try and crash home a Valeri free kick. He manages to hit it, but it flies over the bar.
42 min: The Timbers have returned to their usual pattern: pouring forward in possession and interchanging quickly, swarming opponents when they lose the ball, forcing the Fire onto the back foot, to a series of last-ditch lunges.
43 min: Jack Jewsbury decides it's time to pretend he's a rampaging right winger and dances past a couple of Fire challenges inside the area.
45 min +1: A weak first touch forces Gaston Fernandez to spin past a couple of Fire defenders, and he takes the rest of the Fire defense by surprise with a sneaky little pass to Will Johnson, who tries a quick turn in the area and is dispossessed.
HALFTIME: The Timbers end the first half battering with all their might at the door marked "Goals." They just can't quite do it before referee Oliveira blows his whistle. Portland grew pretty steadily into the game. Probably halftime was too soon.
46 min: The second half begins with Jewsbury hurling the ball back to Sean Johnson for some reason.
47 min: It looks like the Timbers switched the lineup a little bit at halftime. Now Fernandez is playing as the central playmaker behind Urruti, with Valeri on the right and Nagbe on the left.
48 min: Darlington Nagbe gets his first chance yet to try and run with the ball. Nobody really makes a run for him to pick out, so he's forced to take a long, despairing shot that pinballs between a couple of Fire defenders.
51 min: The Timbers definitely did not carry the momentum of the last part of the first half through the halftime break. They don't look like playing with too much conviction.
55 min: A scream of deep despair explodes into the Portland sky after Valeri sweeps a brilliant through pass from the right wing along the ground and into the box. First Fernandez tries to sweep home one-on-one with Sean Johnson and only manages to stumble over the ball. Then Urruti stabs the ball wide with the goal gaping.
60 min: The game was stopped for a while there as Timbers medical staff treated Ricketts' right knee, which he seemed to injure in a collision with Amarikwa and Paparatto in midair. Amarikwa now gets a yellow card, and Steve Zakuani comes on for Urruti.
62 min: Another realignment of the Timbers' front four: Zakuani is now on the left, Fernandez up front, and Nagbe behind the striker.
63 min sub: Patrick Nyarko for Joya.
65 min: The Timbers nearly buffet the Fire goal out of its foundations, but can't score. Sean Johnson parries Valeri's cross to Zakuani, who smacks the post with his follow up. Then Will Johnson tries a bicycle kick but only manages to hit Larentowicz with the effort. Now Lovel Palmer is a little injured.
68 min sub: (Chicago) Patrick Ianni for Palmer.
68 min: There are always reasons to smile, and Amarikwa decides to remind the TImbers fans of that, trying a stepover but forgetting to brin g the ball with him. The Timbers clear a Shipp free kick and Nagbe races clear, only to be fouled by (I think) Watson.
73 min: Chara, Will Johnson, Valeri and Nagbe all take it in turns to show brilliant determination in a move that leads to a foul on Nagbe. Valeri forces the ball into the area and Sean Johnson spends some time playing pinball with the Portland attackers before finally collecting the ball.
77 min: Ianni cynically attempts to bring Zakuani down with a kind of midair barrel roll. Zakuani looks like he might have been able to get it, but the whistle blows anyway.
GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!! Portland 1-1 Chicago (Fernandez 79). Valeri plays the ball back to Nagbe, who smacks the ball against Sean Johnson. The Fire keeper spills the ball at Fernandez's feet and, like a man who is meditating, who is floating around the field in his own personal bubble of eternity, the Argentine striker caresses the ball into the back of the net. Green smoke explodes across a relieved stadium.
80 min: As Timber Joey attempts to slice off a wedge of log, the ball falls at his feet and he leaves his saw in the tree and strokes it back onto the field.
83 min: Amarikwa, a man who has never started for Chicago, now goes down with an apparent hamstring cramp. Juan Luis Anangono is on for him now.
86 min: RED CARD. Substitute Patrick Nyarko is off for the Fire after getting his second yellow for steaming into Chara as he tried to control the ball.
86 min sub: Valeri off, Frederic Piquionne on.
87 min: Chara spots a sneaky run by Jewsbury behind the Fire defense on the right wing and drops a millimeter-precise ball onto the right-back's boot. Jewsbury blazes it just wide of the far post from an acute angle. It was a truly breathtaking pass from Chara.
90 min: The introduction of Piquionne appears to single the Timbers' desire to hurl the ball high into the area. All four of the Timbers' attackers camp out in the Fire area as soon as the ball gets into the final third.
90 min +1: The fourth official has signaled that there will be 5 minutes of added time. The Fire try to eat up as much as possible by standing like a pensive Hamlet over every set piece. Ricketts turns himself into a midair starfish to block Bakary Soumare's shot.
90 min +2: Nagbe decides it is time to hit a no-look arched pass over his own head into the area. It does not find a teammate.
90 min +3: Chicago defender Gonzalo Segares is writhing on the ground. Which may be a sincere after effect of Chara's crashing into him or may have something to do with the Fire's desire to preserve the draw with time running off the clock.
90 min +6: It took Segares at least two minutes to leave the field. Steve Zakuani tries to sweep the ball onto Danso's head, but Sean Johnson clears. Piquionne gets the ball at his feet after Harrington's long ball, but it is cleared. Fernandez fouls Ianni in the Chicago penalty area, smashing his face into the defender's shin.
FULL TIME: As soon as Sean Johnson takes the Chicago free kick, the referee blows his whistle. Fernandez looks to have injured his hand or wrist in the challenge with Ianni. Another disappointing 1-1 draw at home for the Timbers.
Looking ahead. The Timbers spend the rest of the month on the road. On Saturday, they will play Colorado, and a week later, they will be in Dallas.
Don't worry: Fernandez looked hurt at the final whistle, but now he is carrying his son around the field in his injured hand.
The next home game is the rivalry match against Seattle on April 5th. I'll see you then if not sooner.