It was a game that only its mother could love — perfunctory, and little more.
The Portland Timbers' trip to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois on Saturday night yielded plenty of wind, another series of sensational stops from Jake Gleeson, and a whole lot of soul-sapping soccer in what would conclude in a 1-1 draw between the Timbers and host Chicago Fire.
Of the two sides, it was the last-placed Fire — and not the defending champion Timbers — who had more cause to be upset with the result. It was a flat performance from Portland, who, sorely missing rising USA star Darlington Nagbe, struggled to create anything of consequence offensively.
Had Chicago a little more polish, or a little more quality, Saturday night could have been another road rout. Instead, despite the fact that the Timbers are still yet to keep a clean sheet or win away from Providence Park in 2016, Portland will move forward to a big home game on Wednesday night against San Jose.
But even if the Timbers won't ring their hands over this result, there's still reason to be concerned. If you can't win on the road against Chicago, you figure you're going to have a tough time winning on the road against anybody.
And this game set up perfectly for the Timbers. Aided by the wind and the inexperience of bumbling Fire fullback Rodrigo Ramos, Diego Valeri latched onto a miscued clearance off of a long punt and gave the Timbers the lead with a sweet finish past Sean Johnson.
The goal meant that the Fire, who wanted to sit back, absorb pressure, and counter, would be forced to chase the game — and considering that their offense had only produced six goals in their last ten games and nine all year — that wasn't a particularly frightening proposition for the Timbers.
But the lead didn't hold for long. Just two minutes after Valeri's fifth of the season, Kennedy Igboananike played provider for fellow Chicago DP David Accam — who slipped between the Timbers' center-backs and fired past Gleeson to level the match.
It was another defensive letdown, and with the Timbers offense nowhere to be found, it'd be costly.
Outside of Valeri, Portland didn't have an attack. Dairon Asprilla ran hard, but created little in his first start since April 3rd, while Jack McInerney failed to replicate the all-action performance he put in last weekend against Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the man compensated to make an impact, Lucas Melano, was once again painful to watch. At this point, he's just stealing money. It might not be time to pull the plug yet, but the Timbers should start looking for a way out.
Melano wasn't the only man sorely underperforming. Chris Klute, gifted his place in the team back due to Jermaine Taylor's participation in Jamaica's Copa America, had a miserable outing. Jorge Villafaña's shoes look bigger and bigger with each passing game.
But for their shortcomings, the Timbers weren't in real trouble until they came out for the second half like a hangover. It was at that point that Chicago began pounding on the door.
The Fire's biggest chance was created midway through the half after Accam, who'd been stuffed on several earlier occasions by Nat Borchers, shoved the veteran defender in the back and fed Igboananike — but Gleeson got down to make a sensational stop. For the New Zealander, such saves are becoming routine.
Even with the understanding that his shot-stopping style doesn't fit how the Timbers want to play, it's going to be close to impossible to lift Gleeson from the starting lineup when Adam Kwarasey finally returns in July. Without him, Portland would be in last place and in serious trouble.
As it finished, though, the Timbers' defense had no reason to feel ashamed. They did their jobs — and outside of Melano's atrocious form, the cruciality of Nagbe to the Timbers' cause was the only real takeaway.
But failing to get three points in Chicago means that the pressure is squarely on Portland to beat San Jose in three days. It's a match that sets up well enough — the Timbers have already beaten the 'Quakes this year without Nagbe, and neither Anibal Goody nor Chris Wondolowski will be available for Dominic Kinnear's side.
But it's going to take a bigger effort than we saw on Saturday night. Getting Fanendo Adi back from the start will help, and starting Jack McInerney on the wing in Melano's — a position the poacher has taken a surprising liking too this year — is worth thinking about.
In any case, Portland will recalibrate and move on quickly. No one will long remember this result against Chicago, which, considering their frustratingly fragile state at this stage of 2016, isn't the worst thing for the Timbers.