PORTLAND -- Eric Brunner's goal in the 19th minute broke a three-match scoring drought and the Portland Timbers went on to defeat the Chicago Fire 2-1 on Sunday.An own goal in the 52nd minute proved to be the winner for the Timbers (3-5-3), who had played to scoreless draws in their last two matches."Maybe it wasn't pretty at times, but it was the three points that we needed," Timbers striker Kris Boyd said.Jalil Anibaba scored the lone goal for the Fire (4-3-3), stopping a three-game unbeaten streak. The loss also snapped a two-game winning streak on the road for Chicago.The Timbers were coming off a 0-0 draw at Houston on Tuesday. That followed a scoreless result at home against the Columbus Crew on May 5 and a 2-0 shutout by Montreal the week before.The victory pulled Portland ahead of the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy for last place in the Western Conference.Brunner picked up the loose ball after Boyd's flailing bicycle kick off a header from Hanyer Mosquera, firing it past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the early going. It was the first goal by a Timbers player in the team's last 446 minutes of play.Going into the match, the Timbers were scoreless in 321 minutes - the longest drought in the MLS this season. Portland's last score was an own goal against Sporting KC on April 21. The last Timbers player to score was Kris Boyd on April 14 in a 3-1 loss at the Los Angeles Galaxy."You set the tone when you score the first goal, and that's what we wanted to do," Brunner said.Chicago's Pavel Pardo was unguarded when he fired a shot at Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who leaped and grabbed it out of the air for a spectacular save in the 37th minute.But Perkins couldn't get to Anibaba's rip into the corner two minutes later to tie it at 1. That ended Perkins' streak of 377 minutes without allowing a goal.The match got chippy as the first half wound down, with Chicago's Patrick Nyarko and Portland's Mike Chabala getting into a shoving match that resulted in yellow cards for both players.The Timbers went ahead on the own goal that came off the knee of Fire midfielder Logan Pause after Sal Zizzo's corner kick deflected off Boyd."It's a huge win," Perkins said. "It puts us real close to being in the middle of the pack. A couple of more results go our way and we're right in there."The Fire continued to deal with injuries on their back line, with Arne Friedrich down with a right hamstring injury and Cory Gibbs out for an extended period after a meniscus tear in his right knee.Portland was without captain Jack Jewsbury because of a pelvic strain. Midfielder Diego Chara wore the captain's armband against the Fire.Timbers defenseman Futty Danso was serving a one-game suspension imposed by Major League Soccer for striking Dynamo forward Calen Carr across the head Tuesday.
No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.
That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.
The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.
The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.
They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.
They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.
“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”
Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.
An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.
“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.
After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.
“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”
Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.
The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.
“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”
Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.
But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.
A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.
“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.”