Timbers 1, Impact 1: Piatti magic brings Montreal back in Portland
Jack McInerney's early header looked like it might suffice Wednesday night for the Portland Timbers, but the home team conceded a soft goal just before the break and couldn't do enough against an organized Montreal defense and had to settle for another draw -- its third in a row -- as its unbeaten streak reached eight games.
Ignacio Piatti's superior effort in the 44th minute gave the Impact a 1-1 tie, extending its unbeaten streak to five games with a second draw on a five-day Western trip.
Montreal (6-4-8), again missing ailing star Didier Drogba, fell to fourth in the East after the New York Red Bulls' victory early Wednesday night over Orlando. Portland (6-6-8) remained seventh in the West, just three points out of third place.
Some of the pivotal storylines:
Bush’s Corner Problem
The rule of thumb for goalkeepers is if you come off your line, you have to get the ball. It doesn't always work out that way, and sometimes it bites you. That happened to Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush twice in the first half, and it likely would have been the game had Lucas Ontivero not been in position the second time.
McInerney, making his first MLS start since May as Caleb Porter switched to a 4-4-2 formation with playmaker Diego Valeri sidelined by an ankle injury, fired the Timbers ahead on the first of several superb corner kicks from Jack Jewsbury. The Impact didn't bother to mark McInerney, who stepped into a crowd at the top of the six-yard box and leapt above Kyle Bekker to hammer home the cross, ending his team’s 194-minute scoreless run in league play (284 minutes, overall). Bush came off his line although there was no real path to the ball and was in no position to deal with the fallout.
Thirteen minutes later, it happened again. Jewsbury sent the ball into the six, at the near post, and Bush raced toward the ball to no avail. Big Fanendo Adi got his head to the cross, and it would have hit the net if not for Ontivero, who nodded it off the goal line.
Bush did much better on Portland's third corner kick, coming off his line in the 37th minute to snag Jewsbury's serve, and he was in the perfect spot for the Timbers' best second-half set piece, a 76th-minute corner that Liam Ridgewell, left alone in the middle, headed sharply at the Impact keeper.
Powell is back
Portland was in charge until Piatti's goal in the 44th minute and had the better of play in the second half, with Lucas Melano causing plenty of havoc with runs from midfield and Darlington Nagbe finding his way into the game as the second half matured. Adi had a few chances -- he scored on a terrific header in the 34th minute but was whistled for pushing off on Wandrille Lefevre -- and Jewsbury hit a rocket from 30 yards that Bush turned aside in the closing minutes.
Much of the attack came through Alvas Powell, who showed a real spark on the right flank, finding a groove for first time since returning two weeks ago from a wrist injury that had him on the sidelines for three months.
The 21-year-old Jamaican right back was hardly perfect -- his first foray ended in a cross beyond its target, and a horrendous giveaway gave Montreal its best second-half chance, with goalkeeper Jake Gleeson making the finest of his six saves to halt Piatti one-on-one in the 63rd minute -- but he provided strong attacking width, created chances with runs along the byline, and won a few corner kicks, two in the final 15 minutes.
He was pretty good defensively, too, and one of the game's highlights was his quick step forward in the 18th minute to strip Piatti near midfield, a move that drew Piatti's boot across the back of his leg and kick to the ankle - a yellow-card offense that referee Allen Chapman later admitted should have been a red card.
— Chris Rifer (@ChrisRifer) July 14, 2016
The midseason MVP race prominently features Piatti, who looked every bit the part with a moment of magic -- aided by two favorable bounces -- that enabled the Impact to take a point.
Piatti was the heart of the Montreal attack most of the night, but the Impact wasn’t particularly precise, struggled to find penetration, and mostly challenged Gleeson from distance, who did well to parry shots in the first half from Johan Venegas and in the second from Bekker. The Impact had two real chances in the box, both from long Piatti runs on counters.
Piatti fought hard to put the first one away. He took a one-touch pass from Venegas at midfield, carried the ball toward the box and absorbed two attempts to break up play by Nat Borchers -- the ball falling onto his path from both tackles -- before getting an open shot in the box that he finished to the right post, ending Portland’s 284-minute MLS shutout streak. He should have done more with his second chance, after that Powell turnover, but Gleeson was in excellent form.
Montreal got most of its attack on the counter, and looked like it might try for a late victory when Dominic Oduro was brought on with 15 minutes to go, but both times he was given the ball up the right flank with space to move, he slowed play down. And when Patrice Bernier tried to send Oduro streaking behind Portland backline in the 86th minute, former Impact fullback Zarek Valentin did well to head the ball from danger.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.