PORTLAND, Ore. — All it took was a moment of hesitation for Orlando City midfielder Robinho to change the course of the game on Thursday night in Portland.
Flashing up the right flank of the field in the 44th minute, Robinho went one-on-one with Timbers defender Zarek Valentin, who thought he succeeded in kicking the ball out of bounds. But Robinho doggedly kept on the ball, tugging it away as the defender stooped over to pick it up for a throw-in.
Darting away, the midfielder immediately whipped a cross into the box. When the ball deflected awkwardly off a Portland defender, it bounced directly to the feet of Santiago Patiño, and the rookie rocketed a shot into the net without hesitation. Staggering away, he raised his fists with a surprised yell as the Lions took a 1-0 lead off his second goal in MLS play.
For a moment, the once-roaring supporters section fell silent as Patiño’s excited shouts rang audibly throughout the stadium.
“You dream of this when you’re a kid,” Patiño said. “It was a tough game for us. It was hard for us to keep the ball on the field. We’re happy we’re leaving with a point in a tough place. Every time I get the opportunity to score a goal I’m happy.”
The 1-0 lead came after an almost complete half that Portland had dominated firmly, taking 10 shots and placing two on frame while claiming possession for more than 60% of the half. Yet, similarly to the team’s 1-0 victory over Columbus during the weekend, one shot on frame was all it took for the Lions to secure a 1-1 draw in Providence Park despite playing a young and inexperienced lineup.
The game started slow for Orlando City, punctuated by a jarring injury in the seventh minute. Alex De John dove to head away a ball in the box at the same time that Brian Fernandez. The forward’s cleat hit De John square in the jaw, and De John crashed limp to the turf, knocked unconscious by the blow.
Although De John was able to rise and walk off the field on his own several minutes later, he left the match to receive a concussion evaluation from the team’s medical staff. He did not require hospital attention and remained in the stadium for the conclusion of the game.
With De John pulled from the backline, O’Connor brought in midfielder Will Johnson and shifted right back Kyle Smith in to play in the center alongside rookie Kamal Miller. Despite the lack of experience within the core of the backline, the players effectively defended even when playing out of position. O’Connor applauded the young pair’s ability to defend against Portland’s multi-million dollar designated player Brian Fernández, who took six shots during the game.
“When you get stuff like that, you see the commitment from our boys,” O’Connor said. “The defensive understanding was there. We were very hard to break down, and I think all of the guys worked tremendously hard to get into good defensive positions and make it very hard to get to us.”
Orlando City played most of the game in lock-down mode, fending off a barrage of shots from the Timbers. The team was aided by Portland’s inability to level its shots on frame. The Timbers took 26 shots, but only four fell on frame, and most were skied several feet high and wide of the goal.
The Timbers finally responded in the 81st minute, when a soft pass from Patiño was picked off and gave Portland an opportunity to strike in transition. Jeremy Ebobisse lingered in wait on the backside to flick a header off the left post and past Lions goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh to level the score at 1-1.
“We can break it down and say we should’ve done this and we should’ve done that,” O’Connor said. “But when you look at the level of commitment that the guys have shown, it’s been outstanding to have two basically rookie center backs going against the talent they have been.”
From there, the Lions desperately defended to preserve the draw for the final 18 minutes of play. The team did not take another shot after Patiño’s goal, tallying just two during the match. In the end, however, Patiño’s lone goal was enough to lift the team to a 1-1 draw, earning a point on the road in Portland.