Makeshift TFC side fights valiantly but falls to Timbers

Michael-Bradley

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, pictured above. (Chris Young/CP)

Toronto FC 0, Portland Timbers 2 (Chara 64’, Guzman 83’)
• TFC 6 points out of playoffs with 8 games left
• Reds now winless in 4 visits to Portland

It’s not looking very good for Toronto FC as the MLS regular season enters the home stretch.

A makeshift TFC side valiantly fought for 60 minutes on Wednesday, but ultimately fell 2-0 to the Portland Timbers as the Reds’ fading playoff chances took another big hit.

Toronto (7-13-6) remains six points and three spots behind the Montreal Impact, who hold down the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, with eight games remaining in the regular season.

TFC squandered a golden opportunity to close the gap on Montreal. Instead, the reigning MLS Cup champs wasted one of the two games they had in hand on the Impact, and the margin of error for the Reds, already thin entering this contest, became even thinner.

This setback sets the stage for a massive home game on Saturday against Los Angeles FC. Technically speaking, it’s not a ‘must-win,’ but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a contest that could decide the Reds’ post-season fate. If they lose, it’s difficult to see how they’ll be able to come back from it and qualify for the playoffs.

With the LAFC game looming and several of his players nursing minor injuries, Toronto coach Greg Vanney made seven lineup changes from last weekend’s win over Montreal. Forward Sebastian Giovinco, midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez, and defenders Gregory van der Wiel and Drew Moor did not make the trip to Oregon.

Vanney also made a goalkeeping switch, going with backup Clint Irwin over Alex Bono. It was only Irwin’s fifth start of the MLS season, and first since July 4. Captain Michael Bradley, a central midfielder by trade, started in the heart of defence.

Bradley being deployed in defence meant a rare start for Liam Fraser. The 20-year-old Canadian put in a solid shift as the midfield pivot, protecting the back line and connecting the defence and the attack with his tidy passing.

Forward Jozy Altidore, back after serving a two-game suspension, was partnered up front with newcomer Lucas Janson. Jon Bakero also earned his first start since coming to Toronto last month via a trade with the Chicago Fire. Defender Chris Mavinga and fullback Auro Jr. were unavailable due to long-term hamstring injuries.

Janson nearly opened the scoring in the 10th minute, hitting the post from inside the six-yard box with a side-footed shot off a short pass from Ryan Telfer.

Already on a yellow, Marky Delgado should have been sent off late in the half for a cynical foul on Portland’s Diego Chara. But referee Fotis Bazakos kept his cards his pocket, and decided not to show the TFC midfielder a second yellow. It was a terrible and inexplicable decision – Delgado should have been expelled.

Irwin came up big early in the second half, getting down to tip away a low drive by Sebastian Blanco off a Portland counter-attack. Toronto defender Justin Morrow almost knocked in the rebound, but his clearance ended up whispering past the post.

The Timbers were surging, while TFC was holding on for dear life. The breakthrough came when Zarek Valentin delivered a pass that cut open Toronto’s defence for Blanco, and the Argentine scampered into the box before playing a ball across for Chara to knock past a helpless Irwin.

Canadian Jay Chapman fired a fierce, angled shot from in close, forcing Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella to make a sharp save at the near post with 10 minutes left in regulation.

Portland sealed the win moments later when David Guzman stripped Bradley of possession and then raced in on goal before firing past Irwin.

NOTES: Toronto leads the all-time series against Portland, with four wins and two draws in nine meetings… TFC have never won in Portland, suffering three losses and recording one draw at Providence Park… Wednesday marked the only meeting between the two sides this season… The Reds return home where they will host Los Angeles FC on Saturday night at BMO Field. LAFC is coached by Bob Bradley, father of TFC captain Michael Bradley. After that, Toronto is off until Sept. 15 when it will host Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.