Frank Yallop made some dramatic changes to the line up that dropped the season opening game 3-2 last weekend and the team responded with a hard fought 1-1 draw in Portland. The changes which included Matt Watson aiding Jeff Larentowicz in central midfield, Benji Joya and Harrison Shipp on the wings, and Alex in a more advanced role behind Quincy Amarikwa appeared to take the home team by surprise as the Fire were the aggressor for the first thirty minutes of the match. Portland eventually gained control as the first half ended and dominated the second forty-five however. The Fire were probably fortunate in clinging to a 1-1 draw but the effort and ability to earn a result on the road against one of the better sides in MLS does bode well for the team's youngsters who were given an opportunity to play in a meaningful game.
The Timbers were a heartbeat away from adding another two or three goals with golden opportunities that were either thwarted by the Fire defense or simply missed. As the Fire clung to a one goal lead Portland pushed numbers forward but couldn't equalize until the 79th minute when Gaston Fernandez tapped in a rebound from a shot that was initially saved by Sean Johnson.
The Fire did have some chances early in the first half before Quincy Amarikwa drew a penalty on Norberto Paparatto in the 19th minute. Jeff Larentowicz buried the ensuing penalty kick but there weren't many opportunities to extend the lead after that. The revamped and younger Fire squad showed some resolve to hold on and pick up the result but it should be noted that allowing 65% possession and 21 shot attempts by your opponent isn't usually a recipe for success.
Yallop and the youngsters won this round with smart tactical maneuvers and youthful enthusiasm driven by the hunger to get on the pitch. Those factors allowed the Fire to get the jump on Portland and set them on their back foot early. It worked in so far as they hung on and earned the result. They'll need something more than that to continue improvement but now they've got something to build on.
GK Sean Johnson (6) - Six saves in a decent day's work but a communication gaffe with Soumare in the 71st landed him in no man's land. Luckily for Johnson and the Fire, Will Johnson's shot at a completely empty net rolled harmlessly to the post and over the end line. He did come up big against Will Johnson just before the half expired and again to deny Fernandez in the 66th leading to a crazy sequence that saw Portland attackers have two additional attempts blocked by Fire defenders.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) - After a tough outing against Chivas USA, Segares was much better in this match. Both fullbacks stepped up nicely on several occasions to deny Portland attacks in dangerous areas.
D Bakary Soumare (6) - Recovered with his starting spot likely on the line after last weekend's howler. Strong game with a handful of well timed tackles denying good opportunities. Nearly got to a Shipp service in second half stoppage time but Ricketts managed to tip the ball away at the last second.
D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (6) - With the Fire in full "defend" mode for most of the last thirty minutes the centerbacks needed to play big and they did. Hurtado blocked a second shot by Nagbe in the 66th that would have given Portland another score.
D Lovel Palmer (6) - The full backs weren't involved much offensively but like his teammates on the back line, Palmer was there when he had to be. He was subbed off in the 67th minute after the initial block of Nagbe's shot attempt on goal.
M Jeff Larentowicz (5) - This would have been a tick higher if not for the missed chance to clear away the ball leading to the game tying score. Other than that instance, Larentowicz was much better than he was against Chivas USA and did well to limit Valeri and the center of the Portland attack for the first 30-40 minutes of the game. Stepped up and scored on the penalty kick to give the Fire the unexpected lead.
M Matt Watson (6) - His insertion into the line up to aid Larentowicz defensively was one of the key tactical wins of this match for Yallop. A strong debut for the Fire has probably earned him a look at additional playing time. A strong shot from 30 yards out in the 54th was one of the Fire's few scoring chances in the second half.
M Benji Joya (5) - Wasn't spectacular in this first start for the Fire but he was effective enough although he doesn't seem quite comfortable playing on the outside. A decent match but he's better suited in the middle.
M Harry Shipp (5) - Like Joya he seemed a little out of place on the wings but his set piece and dead ball service was exceptional. The Fire didn't score from corners or free kicks but just about every delivery was placed in a dangerous area giving teammates an opportunity to get to the ball.
M Alex (6) - Very active and dangerous through the opening moments of the match. A well taken turn and shoot in the 22nd minute forced Ricketts into a fingertip save and set the tone for the attack. Silent in the second half however as Portland controlled the remainder of the game.
F Quincy Amarikwa (7) - Set the tone along with Alex in forcing Portland to defend early. His maximum effort, runs into space, and availability for playing in combination changed the look of the entire offense in opposition to what the Fire was able to do against Chivas early last week. Forced Paparatto into contact and drew a penalty that would earn a most needed point. Was largely absent in the second half before being subbed out in the 83rd apparently suffering from cramps.
M Patrick Nyarko (4) - Two yellow cards and a dismissal after 22 minutes on the pitch. Not much to say here other than Nyarko is off to a rough start in 2014.
D Patrick Ianni (5) - Came in for Palmer in the 67th and appeared to lose his mark in Fernandez for the tying goal.
F Juan Luis Anangono (5) - Entered the match in the 83rd for Amarikwa and did manage to earn two corner kicks for the Fire.
The home opener against the New York Red Bulls who tied Colorado at home 1-1.