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  • 15 Sep 2014

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Timbers seize some momentum with equalizer vs. AIK

The Portland Timbers used their final preseason match of the year to show that they have quite a bit of talent. Perhaps more importantly, the Timbers also used the match against AIK to show that they have an abundance of heart.

Using a starting 11 that will closely resemble the starting lineup on opening day, Portland outshot AIK 22-11 and put 12 shots on frame to the Swedish team’s five.

Still, it was AIK that went ahead 1-0 on a 28th[ minute goal. And, as the match drew toward its end, it appeared that would be enough.

In the 75th minute, though, Timers defender Michael Harrington scored the equalizer, and the teams wound up in a 1-1 draw before an announced crowd of 14,968 at Jeld-Wen Field.

“I’ve seen this team respond positively with their backs against the wall,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “We had hoped in our selections with this group that we would be able to harness that. I’m seeing that in this group.

"They’re playing with a lot of swagger and a lot of confidence. There’s still a long way to go. It’s still the tip of the iceberg, and that’s scary. This could be a really special group.”

The draw with AIK, from Sweden’s first-division Allsvenskan, moved Portland to 2-2-2 this preseason.

Starting next week, the matches will count. The Timbers open their MLS season at home next Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.

"We’re ready,” Porter said. “It was a great end to the preseason. It’s been a good five weeks. Guys have worked really hard. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

The Timbers began the match aggressively. They used counterattacks to push the ball into the attacking third, controlled possession in and around the 18-yard-box and dictated the match.

In the 11th minute, Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe received a pass 25 yards from goal. He was alone, with nothing between him and the back of the net except AIK goalkeeper Ivan Turina. Nagbe fired a right-footed shot but pushed the ball three feet outside the left post. A platinum opportunity was lost.

In the 16th minute, Nagbe made another stellar run, slipping between two defenders. This time, Nagbe shot the ball directly into Turina’s waiting arms.

“I was just trying to be more aggressive,” Nagbe said. “I was trying to take advantage of what they gave me. I’m disappointed. You always want to score when you get the chances, so I’m a little disappointed.”

AIK was much more surgical with its chances.

In the 28th minute, the Timbers were punished by a brilliant display of football. AIK midfielder Robin Quaison made a run into the box. He then sent a pass to striker Henok Goitom. Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts came out to try to defend ball. Goitom gave Ricketts a head fake and the Portland keeper bit, diving for the ball. Goitom was able to maneuver around Ricketts, stare down an open net and slide the ball inside the far post.

The Timbers had one more phenomenal chance to score, in the 45th minute. Striker Ryan Johnson took the ball down the left side and passed it to midfielder Diego Valeri inside the 6-yard box. Turina was late getting to the near post, but it would not matter. Valeri was unable to curl his shot inside the post.

AIK continued to control the match as the second half started. The Swedish side’s attack simply seemed too smooth and rhythmic for the Timbers to have an opportunity to work with the ball at their feet. When the Timbers did move the ball into dangerous positions, the AIK back line continued holding firm.

By the 65th minute, AIK began slowing the match down, trying to hold on to the lead.

That strategy did not work out so well for AIK, though. In the 75th minute, Nagbe saved a ball from going out of bounds, corralling it just in front of the end line. Nagbe centered a pass to Harrington. From 14 yards, Harrington took a touch and fired. The ball went hard and low to the far post, and finally the Timbers had found the back of the net.

“I found myself in a good spot up the field,” Harrington said. “I was really trying to put Darlington in on goal. It just so happened that the guy tried to close him down. I got my run into the box, and it was a great weighted pass by Darlington. It was just right there for the taking.”

With new life breathed into them, the Timbers began forcing the issue, attacking the AIK defense and trying to find the winning goal.

That goal almost came in stoppage time, when Will Johnson received a pass inside the 6-yard box and put the ball into the back of the net. Johnson was ruled offside, though.

Still, there were many positives for Portland to take from the match and into Sunday.

“We’re going to win a lot of games this year if we play the way we did in the second half,” Porter said. “We were electric.”