The Philadelphia Union didn't figure to have much of a chance against a Portland Timbers side that has made a habit of dominating visiting opponents since Caleb Porter became head coach.
A revamped midfield helped the Union not only have a chance, but Philadelphia nearly pulled off a season-opening upset before a last-second Gaston Fernandez equalizer helped the Timbers salvage a 1-1 draw at Providence Park on Saturday night.
Jack McInerney's flick header off a re-directed Cristian Maidana corner kick in the 64th minute looked like it might hold up, but as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked off the clock, a Portland corner kick was flicked by Philadelphia midfielder Brian Carroll to a wide-open Fernandez, who headed it him to tie the score and send the sold-out crowd of 20,674 into hysterics.
The late goal spared Portland from a completely disappointing start to a season the Timbers come into considered MLS Cup contenders. Portland enjoyed a 60-40 edge in possession the day, but that state didn't tell a true story of how the match went.
Union newcomers Maidana, Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu combined with Brian Carroll to outplay a normally-dominant Timbers midfield, with Maidana and Nogueira providing the kind of creative quality Philadephia sorely lacked in 2013.
It was that creativity, and Philadelphia's ability to combine passes and create chances, that caught the Timbers off guard.
"They surprised us. We were expecting a different kind of Philadelphia team," said Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri. "They opened up and tried to play, and they played well. They came to play."
The Union had to feel a sense of disappointed at coming so close to taking all three points, but the mood in the locker room was a positive one after turning in a solid performance.
"To come here and play the way we did, it gives us something to build on," McInerney said. "We could tell in preseason that we can do some good things and to play this well against a team like Portland is going to give us confidence."
The Union could have scored more than one goal on the night, but Timbers goalkeeper and reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year Donovan Ricketts came up with several big saves, including a diving stop on a Maidana shot in the 20th minute.
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