PORTLAND, Ore. – Gaston Fernandez has made quite the impression just two games into his MLS career.
For the second straight week, the Portland Timbers’ new Argentine forward rescued a point with a late equalizer after he hammered home a 79th-minute game-tying goal Saturday afternoon in a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire at Providence Park. Last week, Fernandez’s late heroics – on a stoppage-time header off a corner kick – gave Portland a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union.
It was a game that played out in almost identical fashion as one week ago, with the Timbers dominating possession but their opposition creating several dangerous chances in early action – leading to a Jeff Larentowicz penalty kick that put the Fire up 1-0 in the 19th minute.
The share of spoils for the Fire – at a place where Portland have lost just twice under head coach Caleb Porter’s tenure – conclude their two-week West Coast swing to open the season on a somewhat positive note after last week’s 3-2 loss to Chivas USA. Especially considering the way Chicago weathered an intense Portland storm late after being reduced to 10 men when Patrick Nyarko was ejected after a second caution for a reckless challenge on Darlington Nagbe.
The Timbers opened the second half with seemingly endless chances to net the equalizer.
On a counter in the 56th minute, Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri rolled a cross into the area. Both Fernandez and striker Maximiliano Urruti had chances, but neither could put their foot to it.
A Valeri blast in the 65th minute had to be saved by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The rebound when to second-half substitute Steve Zakuani, but his two shots were both blocked.
Portland were gifted a chance in the 75th minute when a bungled clearance by Johnson and defender Bakary Soumare gave Timbers captain Will Johnson a free shot at an open goal, but his attempt rolled inexplicably wide.
The goal finally came when Nagbe teed up a rocket from the top of the area. It was saved by Johnson, but the rebound fell right to Fernandez for the easy tap in.
Chicago proved to be the aggressor in early action, finding space on the counter from the pace of attacking trio of striker Quincy Amarikwa and wingers Alex and Benji Joya, the US youth international receiving his first MLS start.
Alex nearly struck on a expertly played volley and spinning left-footed shot that required a diving finger-tip save by Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
The Fire’s early energy paid off in the 19th minute when Amarikwa beat Timbers center back Norberto Paparatto to a long ball in the box. Paparatto took down Amarikwa near the end line, enough of a shove from behind for referee Marcos de Oliveira to point to the spot.
Larentowicz calmly fired home for the 1-0 lead as Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts guessed wrong on his dive, momentarily rewarding a Fire starting XI that was sporting four changes from the team that lost to Chivas USA last weekend.
The Timbers hit the road for the first time this season for their next matchup, a Saturday meeting with the Colorado Rapids. The Fire next make their home opener against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.