By TYLER DAY
With less than ten minutes to play on Saturday night, Fire striker Mike Magee was fouled outside the left corner of the box. He had just scored his third goal in as many games for his new club, but the Fire still trailed 2-1 at home against the Portland Timbers.
Magee and second half substitute Daniel Paladini stepped up to the free kick from 26 yards out, and everyone in the stadium assumed it would be Magee’s to take.
Instead, Paladini took an early strike, curving the ball around the wall and into the left corner of the net. His 83rd-minute goal propelled the Fire to a 2-2 comeback draw against the Timbers.
“I wanted to take it,” Magee said after the game. “(Paladini) called it at first. I said ‘No, I got it.’ And he said ‘It’s from my spot.’ If a guy says that, you’ve got to give it to him.
“Obviously he’ll get free kicks from now on.”
“You just have to be ready when your name is called upon,” Paladini said. “It’s either you shy away from it, or you step up to the plate.”
For a while it looked like this was the night the honeymoon between the Fire and newcomer Magee would come to an end.
The Timbers, riding an eleven game unbeaten streak, dominated possession and had a number of opportunities to put the game out of reach.
Timbers forward Diego Valeri opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when substitute goalkeeper Milos Kocic served a long goal kick to striker Frédéric Piquionne. Piquionne then headed the ball along to Valeri, who curved a shot around a sagging Fire defense for the 1-0 advantage.
Portland seemed to take control of the game early in the second half when Ben Zemanski slotted a perfectly aimed shot from the top of the box into the lower right corner of the net and past an outstretched Sean Johnson. Piquionne again provided the assist, hitting a gently rolling touch pass for Zemanski to hit in stride.
Zemanski was part of a makeshift lineup for Portland, playing without Donovan Ricketts, Futty Danso, Ryan Johnson, and Rodney Wallace, all on international duty. Still, for nearly seventy minutes, the Timbers looked poised to extend its unbeaten streak to twelve games in convincing fashion.
But in the 68th minute, the Fire’s fortune changed when Magee charged after a ball on the left side that was rolling between Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Kocic. The three players met simultaneously at the ball, it popped into the air, and landed at the feet of Magee. He tapped the ball into the open net to make the score 2-1 and begin the comeback.
It was Magee’s eighth goal of the season, already a personal best.
“A lot of character from the group,” Fire head coach Frank Klopas said. “We wanted to have a good start and we didn’t. I’m proud of the group with their effort and character and attitude they showed in the second half to come back. They left it all on the field.”
Magee acknowledged after the game it felt strange to be this excited for a home draw. In just his second home game for the Fire, he was given the captain’s arm band when Jeff Larentowicz was substituted.
He has already become the emotional leader of his new team.
“I apologized to the ref, I didn’t mean to yell at him,” Magee, who received a yellow card for arguing in the second half. “I was telling him I was just yelling, trying to show emotion and light a fire under whoever is looking. I thought everyone was fighting and battling. Something like this can kind of turn your season around.”
After a midweek U.S. Open Cup match with conference rival Columbus Crew, Chicago hosts the Colorado Rapids on June 19.
Ultimately, an away draw is a decent result for the Timbers, as they did extend their unbeaten streak to twelve games and maintain their undefeated road record. But given the grip they held on the game, they will surely head home frustrated they didn’t take the three points.
After an Open Cup match with the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday, the Timbers will host FC Dallas next Saturday in an important matchup of Western Conference contenders.
Here are the match highlights: