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Timbers play to draw against Deportivo Saprissa

Timbers' Jack McKInerney celebrates after a goal Wednesday night. (KATU Photo)

The Portland Timbers’ run in the 2016-17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League came to an end with a 1-1 draw against Deportivo Saprissa in the final group-stage match at Providence Park.

Entering Wednesday’s match with one point fewer than Deportivo Saprissa, the Timbers (2-1-1, 7pts CCL) needed a win to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in club history. With the result, the Timbers finished second in the Group B standings, while remaining unbeaten at home in CONCACAF Champions League play, including the 2014 campaign.

Down 1-0, Portland leveled the score early in the second half when forward Jack McInerney scored his eighth goal across all competitions this season. McInerney’s header in the 57th minute of play stemmed from a curling corner kick from midfielder Jack Barmby, who precisely found McInerney just outside the six-yard box, with the striker quickly flicking the ball in to the top right corner to beat Saprissa goalkeeper Danny Carvajal.

Following a headed finish from Saprissa (2-0-2, 8pts CCL) striker Rolando Blackburn in the 24th minute, the Timbers, who produced 14 shots throughout the match, created numerous scoring chances in the final group-stage fixture. Portland responded strongly in the 31st minute when midfielder Darlington Nagbe drove deep into the box toward the endline, before pulling the ball back to the six-yard box, narrowly missing midfielder Ned Grababoy as the Saprissa defense managed to clear the danger away.

Three minutes into the second half, defender Alvas Powell’s low and driven cross into the box connected with McInerney at the near post, with the striker flicking his chance just wide of the target. Two minutes later, McInerney ran on to defender Vytas’ pass down the left wing, before cutting inside and hitting a well-struck effort that forced a strong deflection from the Saprissa defense, while Nagbe narrowly missed the target with a curling free kick in the 61st minute of play as Portland continued pressure Saprissa’s goal.

Earlier in the match, Portland threatened Saprissa’s goal in the opening minute when a clipped ball over the top found forward Lucas Melano. Controlling the ball into space, Melano ran at the defense before playing a pass across the box, with the ball eventually finding Barmby at the far post. The midfielder took a touch, setting himself up for a chance on goal, before being brought down in the box, but the referee signaled to play on.

Remaining on the front foot in the first half, Portland produced another strong chance on goal in the 17th minute when Vytas’ whipped cross found McInerney, who set the ball into the path of Melano inside the 18-yard box. Running onto McInerney’s pass, Melano blasted a powerful one-time strike toward goal, forcing a strong save Carvajal. Later in the first half, Powell powered his way into the box, beating his marker, before hitting a low strike that rolled just wide of the far post.

Facing a quick turnaround, Portland closes out the 2016 MLS regular season on Sunday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C., beginning at 1 p.m. Tied on points with Sporting Kansas City for sixth place in the Western Conference standings, the Timbers will advance to the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the third time in four seasons with a win against Whitecaps FC. Additionally, the Timbers could potentially qualify for the playoffs with a draw or a loss against Vancouver.

With a win against Vancouver on Sunday, Portland will also clinch its second Cascadia Cup title since joining MLS in 2011. Additionally, Portland would claim the Cascadia Cup with a draw, or a loss by two or fewer goals.

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