PORTLAND, Ore. — After a long drought, goals have finally returned to Providence Park.
Unfortunately for the Portland Timbers, after taking a two-goal lead Wednesday, the New England Revolution responded with two unanswered goals of their own for a 2-2 finish after a penalty in stoppage time, snatching three points from a Timbers team that hasn’t won in its last four games.
The match ended in controversial fashion with a video review determining Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala had fouled the Revs’ Wilfried Zahibo in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Carles Gil buried the equalizer from the penalty spot.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese expressed frustration that the penalty was called when a similar foul on Jeremy Ebobisse in the box during the second half was not called. Savarese also pointed out Mabiala’s foul occurred in the 96th minute when there was supposed to be four minutes of stoppage time, but Savarese stopped himself to avoid being fined again for criticizing the referees.
“Is that a PK or not? What about Jebo’s? Was that different than that PK? I just saw it right now, it’s exactly the same,” Savarese said. “One’s a PK, the other one’s not. Why two extra minutes when they said four? They don’t respect — let me stay quiet. There’s many things I can say.”
In the locker room after the game, the Savarese and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson joined players in the locker room to watch the ending of the San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union game, a clear indication of how tight the margin of error has become for the Timbers, who are fighting for a playoff spot. The Quakes lost, which was favorable for Portland.
Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark said he was surprised the referee hadn’t blown the whistle to end the game before the penalty call.
“Yeah, I was surprised. It felt personal,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ve never commented against referees in my career, but I was very surprised. I kept asking him to call the game.”
Revolution coach Bruce Arena said the referee got the calls right.
“As frustrated as our opponents are at the end with the penalty kick, it was a penalty kick,” he said. “That’s one of the times that I would say that VAR did its job the right way.”
Up until then, it appeared the Timbers would cruise to a cathartic win on a Jeremy Ebobisse brace after losing four of their last seven games, all at home.
Ebobisse got on the end of a wide Jorge Villafana cross in the 49th minute, driving into and heading a ball that had just missed the head of teammate Bill Tuiloma.
The goal snapped a brutal 319-minute scoreless streak for the Timbers, which took place all at home over the previous three games.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders — strikers hate going on droughts,” Ebobisse said. “As we get to the more tense parts of the season where the pressure mounts up and results aren’t falling, as a forward I put a lot of responsibility on myself.”
Ebobisse’s second goal in the 81st minute seemed to be the one to signal the Timbers’ luck is finally is turning. His diving attempt to head in a Sebastian Blanco cross missed, but the ball went off his trailing foot and into the goal. Ebobisse is now on 11 goals for the season, tied for the most on the Timbers.
But the Timbers’ lead started to erode in the 87th minute when Gustavo Bou pulled a goal back for the Revs.
Through the first half, it looked like the Timbers’ scoring woes would continue. Ebobisse got loose on a breakaway behind the backline in the 21st minute, but scuffed a golden scoring chance from the middle of the box.
High-priced designated player Brian Fernandez, the Timbers’ co-leader in goals, was again sidelined with a stomach illness that has limited him over the last five games. He was again seen by Pro Soccer USA at the stadium to watch the game, but in street clothes.
Fernandez had to come off the field on Sunday during a scoreless draw to Minnesota United for what Savarese called dizziness. As of earlier this week, Savarese said doctors were still trying to identify that cause of Fernandez’s symptoms.
Ask by Pro Soccer USA after the game for an update, Savarese declined to talk about Fernandez, saying he wanted to talk about the players who were on the roster Wednesday instead.
The Revs, meanwhile, made good on Arena’s promise to rotate for the midweek game. Seven changes were made in Portland from the lineup that got a scoreless draw in Salt Lake City last week. Brad Knighton got his first start in goal since June.
The match was the first one since MLS lifted its ban on the Iron Front flag, after weeks of protests from the Timbers Army who defied the ban. On Wednesday, a large Iron Front flag hung on the wall in front of the supporters section.
— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) September 26, 2019
“Very happy about the Timbers Army, today was fantastic — their support, the energy,” Savarese said. “That’s what’s we need. It looks like they went through the spirit of our players because the guys were able to play a great match.”
Up next, the Timbers head to Kansas City this weekend while the Revs host New York City FC.