Timbers fight for scoreless draw
The Portland Timbers didn't lose the match on Monday. But the first leg of their MLS Cup playoff series with Houston was about lost manpower.
Starting the match without three starters because of injury, the Timbers had three key players leave with injuries during a 0-0 draw on a chopped up field at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
The second leg of the two-game series will be played on Sunday at Providence Park with the winner advancing to the Western Conference finals.
How many players will coach Caleb Porter have available?
Diego Chara and Larrys Mabiala left with first-half injuries, Darlington Nagbe left in the second half. That came after the Timbers started the night without winger Sebastian Blanco and midfielder David Guzman.
Nagbe (tight hamstring) seems most likely among the injured to be available on Sunday, based upon Porter's postgame comments.
Chara's injury is a broken foot. Mabiala injured his hip and his status will be evaluated.
Blanco suffered burns when he spilled boiling water on his foot. He trained lightly late in the week but was not able to go. Guzman suffered a knee sprain in the season-ending match against Vancouver and has not trained since.
Add in Fanendo Adi and the Timbers could be without six starters for the make and break game on Sunday.
With all of that, the Timbers turned in a strong defensive outing. It was only the second time this season that Houston was shut out at home.
Lawrence Olum started in Guzman's place alongside Chara and Amobi Okugo replaced Chara in the second half. Roy Miller took over for Mabiala as the right center back alongside Liam Ridgewell.
When Nagbe walked gingerly to the bench in the 59th minute, rookie Jeremy Ebobosse came on and Darren Mattocks shifted from striker to the left wing.
Houston's best chances came in the second half, when Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made his two saves.
In the 51st minute, Attinella came off his line to swallow up a counter attack chance for Elis. In the 56th minute, a header from defender Phillippe Senderos from a Houston corner kick forced Attinella to react and tip the ball over the cross bar.
The first half included one very good chance for the Timbers and controversy in each penalty area.
Nagbe had a chance to give Portland an early lead but his shot from 16 yards off a counter-attack feed from Diego Valeri went well wide.
In the 30th minute, referee Robert Sibiga whistled for a penalty kick as Mabiala tackled the ball away from Alberth Ellis. A video review overturned that call when replays showed Mabiala got the ball on his lunging tackle.
In the 40th minute, the Timbers wanted a penalty kick when Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric appeared to foul Darren Mattocks as the keeper lunged to get to the ball. Portland was awarded a corner kick on the play.
Other than the injuries, the story of Monday's match was the divot filled grass field in Houston. Porter called it the worst field his Timbers have played on in his five season as the Portland coach.
The time of Sunday's match has not been announced. That will likely happen after Tuesday's match between New York City and Columbus.
If Sunday's match also ends in a scoreless draw after 90 minutes, then 30 extra minutes will be played and if still tied the series will be decided by penalty kicks.
If any goals are scored in the 90 minutes, Houston would advance with a tie or a win based on the away-goals tiebreaker.
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS
Western Conference semifinals
Portland vs. Houston
Leg 1 — Portland 0, Houston 0
Leg 2 — Time TBD, Nov. 5 at Providence Park (TV TBD)
Seattle vs. Vancouver
Leg 1 — Seattle 0, Vancouver 0
Leg 2 — Vancouver at Seattle, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 (FS1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls
Leg 1 — Toronto FC 2, at Red Bulls 1
Leg 2 — Red Bulls at Toronto FC, noon Nov. 5 (ESPN)
New York City FC vs. Columbus
Leg 1 — New York City at Columbus, 5 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)
Leg 2 — Columbus at New York City FC, time TBD on Nov. 5 (TV TBD)