PORTLAND, Ore. – Late goals from Brian Fernandez and Jeremy Ebobisse led the Portland Timbers to a comeback 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City and into playoff position Saturday as the playoff race in Major League Soccer tightens.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Portland's Diego Valeri chipped a ball across the face of goal and Fernandez ran to the opposite post to head it in.
Ebobisse equalized for the Timbers in the 83rd minute on a quick counter-attack. Diego Chara crossed the ball in front of goal and Ebobisse redirected it into the goal past goalkeeper Tim Melia.
"We left it late and kept the fans nervous, but got the job done," Ebobisse said.
With the win, the Timbers (12-11-4) move into seventh place and the last playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Just nine points separate the second-place Seattle Sounders and ninth-place Sporting Kansas City (10-12-7) with one month left in regular season.
"We had the points and unfortunately we gave them away," Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Sporting Kansas City.
Sporting Kansas City struck first in the 65th minute on a beautiful long-range effort from Benny Feilhaber. From outside the penalty box along the right sideline, he fired a blast that curved inside the opposite post of the goal and out of the reach of goalkeeper Steve Clark.
The Timbers are now 2-11-3 when they concede a goal first.
"It's only our second comeback win of the year," Ebobisse said. "In that fashion, to be down for so long, so late in the game, and still believe that we are going to find the win, that's a testament to the growth of our team."
The Timbers thought they had earned a penalty kick in the 10th minute when a Valeri cross hit the arm of Kansas City's Luis Martins. But after a video review, referee Alex Chilowicz reversed the call because Martins' arm was tucked in tightly against his body.
Shortly before halftime, the Timbers appealed for a handball against Kansas City's Matt Besler, but the referee dismissed it.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese criticized the officials at halftime during his local television broadcast interview for not awarding either handball and asked the Professional Referee Organization to explain the call. Savarese has taken issue several handball decisions that have gone against the Timbers this season.
"Then at the end, the referees are screwing us all the time because this too could've been a PK," Savarese said. "We don't understand the rules anymore when in some other places these are called PKs, this should be called a PK as well for us. So, I don't understand. They need to figure it out because the referees don't understand anything that they are doing. From PRO, they need to communicate this."
After the game, Savarese reiterated his frustration with the referees, saying: "I'm not saying it's something against us — I think they are confused. They need to figure it out."
Ahead of Saturday's game, some members of the Timbers Army fan group were banned three games for displaying flags with the anti-fascist Iron Front symbol, which MLS says violates a new policy prohibiting political signage. In protest of the bans and the policy, the fans did not wave flags during the game or set off colored smoke for goals as they normally do. The supporters unfurled a banner that read, "You can't stop us."
The Timbers did not have enough players to fill the 18-player game roster due to several injuries and international duty.
The injured players were Sebastian Blanco (calf), Modou Jadama (left foot), Larrys Mabiala (left thigh), Julio Cascante (left thigh), Zarek Valentin (left upper leg), Marco Farfan (left knee) and Kendall McIntosh (right foot). On international duty were Andres Flores (El Salvador), Cristhian Paredes (Paraguay), and Renzo Zambrano (Venezuela). Zambrano is suspended for his next two MLS games due to "aggressive behavior" toward a referee.
Fernandez, who the club said was dealing with illness, started on the bench and came on in the second half.
"It was difficult, but these are the moments we see the character of a team, and we saw it today," Savarese said. "The guys stepping on the field performed very well and they had the ideas clear. We had to change our system a little bit to make sure we handled things in the way we felt would be best with the group that we had."
Sporting Kansas City was also missing several players. Injured were Rodney Wallace (hip) and Adrian Zendejas (back). On international duty were Felipe Gutierrez (Chile), Botond Barath (Hungary), Krisztian Nemeth (Hungary), Nicolas Hasler (Liechtenstein), Johnny Russell (Scotland) and Gianluca Busio (United States).
Up next, Sporting Kansas City heads to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy next Sunday while the Timbers host D.C. United.