PORTLAND, Ore. — Everything pointed to another disappointing home result after the Portland Timbers went down 1-0 after Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber’s improbable curling goal in 65th minute.
Even after Jeremy Ebobisse earned the equalizer in the 83rd, the draw could well have meant two points lost in the tight Western Conference playoff race. But Timbers forward Brian Fernandez – who was limited by a stomach virus to a 20-minute substitute cameo – rose above Sporting defender Luis Martins deep into second half stoppage time to potentially change the narrative around the Timbers' playoff push with a 2-1 win.
Fernandez has done plenty of scoring in his time with the Timbers, producing 11 goals in 16 games. But Saturday night’s dramatic header may have been his most dramatic and potentially most important goal of his short MLS career.
“I didn’t know he could jump that high,” Ebobisse said. “He really got up and over, but you know he’s going to score a lot more big time goals so if you just set the bar for how important and dramatic of a goal that he could have, I think you’re going to see a lot more in the future.”
“Definitely it was one of the most dramatic because of the way he came at the moment that he came to give us this win,” Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “But every goal that he scores is important for us.”
It was a fortuitous response to what was otherwise a frustrating first half for the Timbers. At halftime, Savarese voiced his frustration with the Video Review and did so after the game as well.
Twice in the first half, in the 9th and 44th minutes, handball calls did not go in favor of the Timbers, two opportunities that would have resulted in penalty kicks. First, Diego Valeri struck Martins’ arm inside the box with a cross, which was originally ruled a penalty by referee Alex Chilowicz before being overturned on Video Review. Portland also asked for, but did not receive, a handball call in the box just before halftime after the ball appeared to come off Sporting defender Matt Besler's arm.
Though he thought Chilowicz did a good job, Savarese still feels that the consistency isn’t there with what constitutes a penalty kick.
“I think that they don’t have the ideas clear in what is a PK and what isn’t a PK,” Savarese said. “I watch a lot of games and calls don’t get the same treatment, and I’m not saying that it’s all for fairness. I think it shows this confusion.”
Regardless, the Timbers knew they couldn’t let those frustrations define them. Their perseverance paid off, and with a 13-11-4 record they sit in playoff position at sixth in the West.
“Naturally you want every call to go your way so you’re going to argue...like it’s the last call of the game,” Ebobisse said. “But as soon as the call goes there’s always a few guys that are telling people to get on with the because you know you can’t stay hung up on one call to take you out of the game mentally. And maybe that might have happened earlier on in the year. But hopefully this is the kind of team you’re going to see from now on.”