Gastón Fernández pays immediate dividends for Portland, but don’t overlook a strong night from Philadelphia
After spending most of his Major League Soccer debut quietly lurking on Portland’s left flank, Argentine import Gastón Fernández delivered a 94th minute goal at Providence Park on Saturday, a score that salvaged a 1-1 result against the new-look Philadelphia Union. With a strong performance from the newly returned Maurice Edu complementing successful debuts from Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogeuira, the Union were able to carry a one-goal lead deep into stoppage time before Fernández equalized seconds before Ioannis Stavridis’ final whistle.
Up to that point, it appeared as if John Hackworth’s team would pull off the weekend’s biggest upset, with a Philadelphia team expected to compete at the edge of the Eastern Conference playoff race set to hand Timbers head coach Caleb Porter his second regular season loss at home. But while Will Johnson took a quick corner four minutes into stoppage time, Fernández was left unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, with Brian Carroll’s misplay of a near post ball providing an inadvertent assist for “La Gata.”
The error cost the Union two points, but it couldn’t overshadow what was an unexpectedly strong performance. Setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Philadelphia leveraged Edu’s presence to offset Portland’s strength in the middle. Though the Timbers still held 59 percent of the match’s possession, the Union forced their play to the flanks, with the home side unable to generate enough quality chances when they cut back into the penalty area. Although Diego Valeri had multiple chances to put Portland in front, the Timbers finished the night with only two shots on target.
The Union, in contrast, generated six, with Jack McInerney’s close range finish of a second half corner providing the one ball that beat Donovan Ricketts. Even on that play, Edu played the key part, rising above the defense to head the ball down as McInerney stood in front of the Portland keeper.
Add in a strong night from Amobi Okugo at the back, and the Union flashed a foundation that should challenge for a playoff spot, provided they can maintain this level. Though Philadelphia had touted the importance of their offseason acquisitions, the influence of players like Edu and Maidana finally became evident against the Timbers. On a day when four other Eastern Conference teams fell to Western Conference opponents, the Union manage to get a point in Portland.