By JOEY SAMUEL
In a match where two teams coming in were in dire need of three points, each managed to end up with just one. Kyle Nakazawa hit the crossbar late and Troy Perkins was solid in goal as the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers played out to a scoreless draw Saturday night at PPL Park.
Both teams came into the game in the middle of a heated playoff race, but neither team was able to do themselves much good. Portland came away the happier side, managing to keep a clean sheet against a Union team that had scored four goals in their previous game.
While it was a game with few scoring chances, Philadelphia started well and tried to take the game to Portland. An early run by left back Michael Farfan in the fifth minute created a dangerous opportunity when he shimmied past Lovel Palmer, but his cross was cleared. A slew of chances came for the Union by way of crosses into the box, but all of them were snared by goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
"I think we dealt with the high pressure the first fifteen minutes very well," Perkins said. "We limited their chances to being crosses or balls swung in and that's not their strong point."
The Timbers offense came out flat and did not have much of the possession early on, but they eventually established themselves. "I don't think we started as sharp as we would've liked," said Portland coach John Spencer.
In the 27th minute, Kenny Cooper dribbled past Farfan and was in on goal but his shot sailed over the bar. As the first half came to a close, striker Jorge Perlaza had another golden chance but it went begging as rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath somehow kept Perlaza's close-range shot out of the goal.
"(In the) Second half, I thought from the kickoff we started to dominate the game," said Timbers head coach John Spencer.
While Portland did have more possession early in the second half, the best chances for either team wouldn't come until very late. Danny Mwanga unleashed a powerful shot that was headed into the corner in the 81st minute, but it was saved by Perkins. Kyle Nakazawa saw his half-volley bang off the crossbar.
Portland had their own chance late, as a three-on-two breakaway led to a shot by Kenny Cooper, but he sent it across the goal mouth and wide.
In the end, neither team was able to fully capitalize, but Portland was able to come away with the more valuable point.
"All in all I think it's a very, very difficult place, a really tough team to play against, well organized, with a lot of good quality players," said Spencer after the game. "I think what we're trying to do is get into the playoffs. It's another positive step in the right direction."
For the Union, the draw represented their eighth straight game without a win. They were left to rue the small handful of quality chances that they did manage to create.
"We were better than the other team," said Union head coach Peter Nowak. "From the scoreline of course you cannot be happy, but I think we deserved those three points."
Defender Danny Califf, who served as captain during the absence of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, managed to find one positive in the game for the Union. The defense, behind rookie MacMath, kept a clean sheet after giving up four goals in one half during the last game.
"As a defense, and as a unit, we don't want to give up goals, so it was much improved, " said Califf. "I think we did a really good job of limiting their opportunities."
The draw leaves the Timbers just where they were last week, tied for the last playoff spot with the New York Red Bulls. The Union move up to third in the East, but will be disappointed that they were unable to make up more ground on the Columbus Crew, who lost Saturday to Toronto. Next week, they will face off against the Crew in a matchup with many Eastern Conference playoff implications.