The Portland Timbers pulled out some magic in the final moments against the Philadelphia Union via a Gaston Fernandez goal off a 93rd-minute corner kick that gave the home team a share of the points in a 1-1 draw Saturday at a rainy and raucous Providence Park.
The Union were seconds away from escaping with a victory following a 64th-minute goal from Jack McInerney, also off a corner kick.
The arcs of the two teams coming into Saturday’s MLS season opener couldn’t have been more different.
The Timbers were the known quantity and even upped the ante with a few key additions to a squad coming off a highly successful season. The Union were the question mark, having endured an offseason rebuilding project after a disappointing 2013.
Portland had the bulk of the possession and outshot Philly 15-10 with plenty of action to mark the first half.
From the opening kick Portland were on their front foot and nearly laid down an early marker in the fourth minute when a corner kick was headed onto defender Pa Modou Kah at the far post, whose header had to be blocked off the line by Union forward Christián Maidana with goalkeeper Zac MacMath out of position.
Philadelphia nearly found pay dirt in the 20th minute when Maidana squared up a left-footed blast at the top of the area that required a diving save by Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. The rebound fell to McInerney, who fired a blast just over the bar.
Then on a Philly counter in the 32nd minute, Sebastian Le Toux got Ricketts in his sights on a free run down the left wing, pulling the big ‘keeper off his line. Le Toux chipped over Ricketts toward the open goal, but Norberto Paparatto was there to clear it off the line.
In the waning moments of the first half, Timbers midfielder Diego Chara stole the ball at midfield to start a lightning quick counterattack and played the ball out wide to Fernández. Fernández carried forward down the left before centering a perfect ball to an on-rushing Diego Valeri. His blistering shot grom 25-yards out flew just wide of the Union net.
After the half and with Philly pressing, Maidana worked into an open space at the top of the area and unleashed another blazing left-footed shot that was saved out by a diving Ricketts. But on the ensuing corner kick, Maurice Edu flicked a header across the goalmouth that McInerney headed home for the opening strike in the 64th minute.
Caleb Porter made two attack-oriented substitutions late bringing in Kalif Alhassan and Steve Zakuani, the latter making his Portland debut, to help push the game forward. Zakuani's shot from close in was deflected away by MacMath which set up a Timbers corner kick with only seconds to spare. Team captain Will Johnson whipped in a quick restart from the corner flag that took one deflection before falling to Fernández for the headed game-tying goal.
The Timbers remain in the Rose City for their next matchup, Saturday against the Chicago Fire. Philly return home to take on the New England Revolution on the same day.
Release from the Portland Timbers.