CHESTER, Pa. -- Despite Jack McInerney’s return and a second half of offensive pressure, the Union were unable to crack the stingy Portland Timbers, as the two clubs fought to a 0-0 draw Saturday night at PPL Park.
The tie pushes the Union’s overall record to 8-6-7 and 5-3-3 at home. It also continued a five-game undefeated run at PPL Park.
Meanwhile, the draw was the Timbers’ 10th on the season and eighth on the road. They are 8-2-10 on the year.
“Everybody is making them out to be some unbeatable team,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said, “but we have the same amount of wins. They just have a few more ties. They played well and are at the top of the Western Conference for a reason.
“We know that we need to get points in this place (PPL Park). We’re disappointed we didn’t get three because that’s what we expect at home. This is our fortress and we need to get wins.”
Outside of a 24th-minute Zac MacMath foot save on Ryan Johnson, the first half was the Danny Cruz show. Firing up and down the left side of the field, Cruz was one of the few Union players that seemed to excel despite the Timbers’ physical play.
In the 32nd minute, Cruz collided on a 50-50 ball with 6-foot-5 goalie Donovan Ricketts. Fueled by the physicality, Cruz began tearing through the Timbers' back line. He earned the Union’s best chance of the half in the 36th minute, when he fired a left-footed volley from the left side of the box that was just barely saved by Ricketts' fingertips.
“When I got knocked down in the box I was irritated,” Cruz said. “From there on out, I tried to make it a point to go at the right back. I had little success in the first half and a little in the second.
“I told [Brian Carroll] and I told Mike [Farfan] to give me the ball. It gave me some fire. I was upset. It worked out well.”
Cruz finished the half with a game-high four shots.
“Whoever Danny Cruz has run at this year, he’s given them a difficult time,” said Union assistant coach Rob Vartughian, who was filling in for the suspended John Hackworth. “He’s a one-on-one player, he’s got great of energy and gives people fits. Danny’s going to get his chances.”
Though both teams suffered through a 40-minute rain delay at the half, MacMath showed no rust. He made another game-saving stop in the 55th minute when he managed to deflect a golden scoring chance from Diego Valeri from the right side of the box.
The clean sheet was MacMath’s sixth of the season.
“It was a good tie for us against a good team,” said MacMath, who made four saves. “Unfortunately the bounces didn’t go our way and we couldn’t get one in the end.
“It’s the same mentality every game. You want to pitch a shutout and keep your team in it. Thankfully I was able to do that tonight.”
Vartughian also credited the Union defense for keeping the Timbers scoreless.
“We were good tonight as a group defensively,” Vartughian said. “Zac made a couple really good saves tonight, but our collective effort was good.”
At the other end of the field, McInerney, after missing three games with the U.S. Men’s national team, nearly connected with Conor Casey in the 71st minute, when he quickly forwarded a pass to Casey in the box. Surprising Ricketts, Casey quickly let go a one-timer that was just barely kept out by the veteran keeper.
“The save he makes on Conor is world class,” Vartughian said. “We’re disappointed not to get one there but you have to tip your hat to the guy.”
Oozing desperation in the final minutes of the match, the Union forced a pair of corners that created havoc in the attacking third. As the ball was frantically cleared out of danger in the 88th minute by the Timbers, Leo Fernandes launched an unsuspecting shot from outside the scrum that rang off the right post, but the game remained scoreless.
“I was on top of the box and I tried to handle it,” Fernandes said. “It hit the post, I thought it was going to go in.”