Now that was more like it.
Coming down the stretch at Providence Park on Wednesday night, the Portland Timbers had one of MLS's best teams on the ropes. Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco were sensational. Rookies Victor Arboleda and Marco Farfan entered the fray throwing darts.
At the end of the day, after Fanendo Adi's late winner was correctly called back for a foul, the Timbers couldn't get over the line. They drew the Chicago Fire 2-all, and, in the process, blew yet another lead and dropped two more points at home.
But during the summer, in a long season and a weak Western Conference, the soccer matters alongside the results. This was the best the Timbers have played in weeks, and the best they have attacked since the early spring.
They didn't get the three points. But this performance means that Portland can head into the break for the group stage of the Gold Cup with some of the fire that marked the start of this season — itching to get back on the field in two weeks' time.
There were defensive letdowns on Wednesday night — frustrating ones at that — but that's where the recent narrative breaks. The Timbers didn't fold. They didn't play in spurts. Instead, they took the game to Chicago from minute one right up until the final whistle.
After a particularly bright start that saw Fanendo Adi narrowly miss a pair of headers, that meant another first half lead.
Midway through the opening frame, Diego Valeri sent a deep cross towards the right side of the penalty area where Dairon Asprilla — as only he can — flew up to head the ball across the penalty area. Adi got a touch before Juninho, falling, saw it bounce off of his outstretched arm.
Robert Sibiga pointed to the spot, and Adi converted the penalty with a nonchalance to make it 1-0.
Then, ten minutes after the opening goal, Portland somehow contrived to concede an equalizer. With the Fire attack pressed out to the far right touchline, Arturo Alvarez sent in a long line-drive cross that took a bounce in front of the onrushing Nemanja Nikolic in the box and flew, untouched, into the corner of net.
That's how Chicago, without a shot on goal, made it to halftime at 1-1. It was an unfortunate moment from a Timbers defense that had hardly put a foot wrong all half, with Roy Miller and Lawrence Olum letting Nikolic run right in between them to put off Gleeson as they stepped up to the top of the box.
And a Miller mistake would start the sequence that finished with Chicago taking the lead on the hour mark when he nullified a strong tackle in midfield by giving the ball away on an ill-advised back heel.
The lethal Ghanian attacker David Accam snuck behind Ben Zemanski, picked the ball up from Michael de Leeuw, and sent it wide for Arturo Alvarez — who sent it across for second-year fullback Brandon Vincent.
Vincent took a touch, took his time, rifled his first MLS goal down and in off the underside of the bar, and wheeled away with a look of pure joy. It was a lovely goal — the kind the Fire have been scoring for months — and it threw down a gauntlet for the Timbers. They'd respond.
Ten minutes of good work later, they were level — with the two Argentines, Valeri and Blanco, combining for the latter's first goal at Providence Park. It was no more than Blanco deserved in what might very well have been his best half to date for the Timbers.
Portland pushed for the winner — and had the ball in the back of the net at one point from Adi — but, as Caleb Porter would put it post game, they ran out of time.
Still, this was a fantastic spectacle. Blanco and Valeri, in concert, were nearly unplayable. The other reason the Timbers looked so much better? Zarek Valentin was back in at the right back spot in place of Alvas Powell.
Last week against Kansas City, that right side was the Timbers' undoing. Powell was beaten all ends up on the game-tying SKC goal, while in front him, Dairon Asprilla was ineffective and pulled after less than an hour.
But this week, with Powell gone on international duty, the right side was where the Timbers made their money. Valentin was fantastic, and he made Asprilla better as well. The Colombian's header led to the penalty, and both players were involved in the buildup to the Blanco goal.
Valentin has to be an automatic starter from here on in. Asprilla, singled out for praise by Porter post-game, will be awfully difficult to lift from the lineup in his own right.
The Timbers were lucky to get this Chicago team without its two best players, U.S. international Dax McCarty and German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger, but Portland, was, of course, shorthanded in its own right. It didn't matter. Part of the reason was that makeshift central midfield of Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe held up so well.
When it was all said and done, the Timbers had held 61 percent of the ball, uncorked 24 shots and forced the Fire into 28 clearances and Lampson into seven big saves. Porter's contention that this was his team's "best performance of the season" wasn't without merit, despite the final score.
Even at 2-1, the game never felt safe for Chicago. Fire manager Veljko Paunovic, who shut up shop by sending on Jonathan Campbell and folding his team into a 5-3-2 after just 65 minutes, suggested concurrence with that notion. Nikolic's arms-raised celebration at full-time did the same.
The Fire were thrilled with their point, and for good reason. The club has still never beaten the Timbers in seven MLS seasons, but they're a legitimate Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup threat in the next few months. A lesser team would folded in those final twenty minutes. Over the years, many have.
This Timbers team can overwhelm just as they did in March in those second half onslaughts against Minnesota and Houston. What's separating Portland from contention — eliminating the isolated defensive mistakes — is far less than what is troubling most teams.
The Timbers took one of those contenders to the brink on Wednesday night, and, in the process, showed that they have plenty of race left to run in 2017. Portland didn't snap its winless streak on Wednesday night. But, with the pressure very much on, it came up with a performance just as valuable.