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Blown lead, draw with Toronto leave Timbers 'sick to their stomach'

by: BECCA QUINT Sal Zizzo of the Portland Timbers makes a run against Toronto FC.

In Saturday's match between the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC, a cheer arose from the announced sellout crowd of 18,627 at Jeld-Wen Field: 'We'll sing for you Timbers, till you finish the fight.'

The crowd kept singing, but the Timbers could not finish the fight.

As has become their calling card this season, the Timbers were unable to close out the match. Portland blew a 2-0 lead by allowing two late goals.

Instead of a win and three points, the Timbers walked away with a 2-2 draw in a match they more than deserved to win.

'Offensively, at times we were magnificent,' a dejected Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'We scored two very good goals. Defensively, at times we looked not good enough.

'I told the guys in the locker room, 'We can only keep papering up the cracks for so long. Individually, collectively, you have to stand up. You have to be a man.' 

"At times, we did stand up and be counted. At times, we weren't there to be seen. It was a bitterly, bitterly disappointing end to the game.'

The Timbers (6-10-4, 22 points) dominated from the opening whistle. They were faster, quicker, stronger and more creative with their passes.

Toronto (3-11-10, 19 points) played a slightly more elaborate version of kick-and-chase. The midfield was almost non-existent. The midfielders crashed forward on every offensive chance and struggled to get back on defense.

In the 23rd minute, that strategy came back to bite Toronto.

Toronto striker Joao Plata took the ball down the left side on a breakaway. Plata reached the 18-yard box unmarked. With a one-on-one opportunity against Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, Plata fired at the far post and hit the woodwork.

The ball stayed in play. The Timbers pushed the ball up the pitch. Midfielder Diego Chara received a pass from midfield Sal Zizzo along the right side. Chara centered a pass to striker Eddie Johnson, who was unmarked in the middle, 20 yards from the goal. Johnson allowed the ball to come to him, took a touch and blasted a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Stefan Frei, to the right post.

'It was a quick breakaway,' Johnson said. 'Sal played the ball in to Diego. Diego played it out wide to me, and I just cut back inside and hit the shot.'

The Timbers went up 2-0 in the 56th minute on a penalty kick.

Chara took the ball into the 18-yard box, where he was brought down on a late tackle by Andy Iro. Though Iro was not carded, Portland was awarded a PK.

Fresh off his All-Star game appearance on Wednesday, Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury lined up to take the shot. He sent the ball straight down the middle as Frei dove left.

'I've kind of gone every which way this year (on PKs), and just decided I'm going to nail it right down the middle,' Jewsbury said. 'Hopefully he'll go one of the ways, and he kind of left a little early, so I had a pretty good feeling that it was going to go in.'

After the goal, Toronto abandoned anything even resembling a traditional formation. The visitors had just two defenders. The outside backs slid up into the midfield. The outside midfielders became strikers.

'They kind of gambled at the end of the game, and it definitely paid off for them,' Spencer said.

In the 71st minute, Plata passed the ball to Danny Koevermans  The striker drove into the 18-yard box. He cleared the ball backward to Peri Marosevic, who took a touch and fired a 25-yard shot. The ball deflected off Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe and beat Perkins to the right post.

'I should've been in a better position, but I got there too late,' Nagbe said. 'I tried to reach for it, and it just deflected off me.'

Toronto came up with the equalizer in the 81st minute. Plata had the ball on the right side, just outside the box. He sent a lobbing cross into the 6-yard box. Koevermans received the pass. As he turned, he swung his right leg and connected with the ball, sending it to the bottom corner of the left post.

'You make mistakes, that's what's going to happen,' Timbers defender Lovel Palmer said. 'You're going to get punished. We just have to close guys down, deny service. Other than that they didn't have anything. We played well. It's just two mistakes, two goals.'

The Timbers had to go from trying to close out the match to chasing the game. They were unable to find a way to get their offense back into gear, though. Their passes were no longer crisp, and Toronto was playing with more energy.

When the match ended, the Timbers stood on the pitch unable to do anything but lament the lost opportunity to come away with three points they needed in their chase for the MLS playoffs.

The chant that reigned through Jeld-Wen Field concluded with 'there's a party in Portland, no one's sleeping tonight.'

As the Timbers go into a match at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday and a match on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, it is doubtful that any of the players or coaches will sleep well, with the party feeling more like a funeral.

'It's been like this all season,' Zizzo said. 'Guys are sick to their stomach that we can't come in 2-0 (up) in the 70th minute and get a win.'