[MLS SPOTLIGHT] The place was packed, the rain pelted down, Timber Jim fired up his chainsaw, the fans bounced and roared, and the home team won. Barely.
Opening Night for MLS soccer in Portland turned out perfectly, except for the Chicago Fire, which was thoroughly drenched and doused at the final whistle of a 4-2 spectacle at Jeld-Wen Field Thursday
Jorge Perlaza scored twice as the expansion Timbers and their fans overwhelmed the opposition in a powerful testament to the power of this game in this Northwest city.
Yet the visitor provided far more drama than home fans wanted by rallying with a pair of second-half goals to trim a 3-0 laugher into a one-goal, teeth-clencher before a grotesquely ugly late goal restored the party mood.
Fans -- 18,627 of them -- braved a driving rain to fill the stadium well before kickoff and flags of various colors and designs fluttered as thousands of voices deliriously sang the national anthem. An early disallowed goal briefly dampened the mood, but when Perlaza drove up the left flank in the 29th minute to dribble a ball through Logan Pause’s tackle and then roll it past keeper Sean Johnson, a thunderous din greeted the team’s first MLS goal at home. Timber Jim needed a few pulls to get the chainsaw revved up, and when he finally tore into a massive log the fans saluted him as well.
Paired with Kenny Cooper up front, Perlaza sliced through the Fire defense to spark many of Portland’s relentless attacks. The Timbers were also potent on set plays, as evidenced in the 38th minute when left back Rodney Wallace stepped into a partially cleared corner kick to drill a low shot that whistled past Johnson into net.
Perlaza scored again in the second minute of the second half when Johnson fumbled a low ball in the wet conditions and Perlaza banged it home from a few yards out. Chicago cut open the middle of Portland’s defense to get a goal back in the 65th minute when defender Eric Brunner’s tackle at the edge of the penalty area steered the ball into his own net, and Marco Pappa narrowed the lead to a goal 15 minutes later with a bending shot that keeper Jake Gleeson could only tip on its way under the bar.
Cooper’s fortunes neatly encapsulated the frantic, crazed atmosphere that reverberated before, during, and after the game. In the 11th minute, he had headed home a Jack Jewsbury corner kick, but referee Ricardo Salazar waved it off while gesturing for a pushing foul that replays didn’t reveal.
But he and the Timbers got a clinching goal in the 84th minute when Cooper flagged down another Jewsbury corner kick with his arm as he jumped with several players, and in the ensuing melee under the crossbar the ball caromed into the net. Fire players protested fiercely but the goal stood; as Timber Mamadou “Futty” Danso tried to force the ball over the line, Fire defender Dasan Robinson’s clearance instead wound up behind him.
Act Two is Sunday against FC Dallas.
Portland 4, Chicago 2.
Goals: Perlaza (Alhassan) 29, Wallace 38, Perlaza 47, Danso 84; own goal (Brunner) 65, Pappa (Oduro) 81.
Portland – Gleeson; Purdy, Brunner, Danso, Wallace, Hall (Zizzo, 68), Marcelin, Jewsbury, Alhassan (Nagbe, 83), Cooper, Perlaza (Johnson, 77).
Chicago – Johnson; Anibaba, Robinson, Gibbs, Segares, Pappa, Pause, Videira (Maric, 46; Barouch, 63), Nyarko, Puerari (Oduro, 46), Chaves.
Referee: Ricardo Salazar.