PORTLAND, Ore. – D.C. United inched toward their first MLS Cup playoffs berth since 2007 with a 1-1 draw Saturday night at JELD-WEN Field.
But United also let a much-needed road win slip away after taking a 1-0 lead in the 60th minute thanks to a controversial hand-ball call.
United’s goal, a penalty kick by Chris Pontius, was awarded on a questionable call by linesman Craig Lowry, who raised the flag on Timbers defender David Horst as he rose to defend a Perry Kitchen cross.
Portland channeled their anger and rewarded their distraught fans with a 79th-minute equalizer by forward Bright Dike, his second in as many games, to salvage the point.
Three points would have put D.C. in a tie for second in the Eastern Conference with Chicago and New York. But they’ll have to settle for fourth place with 51 points from 31 games.
For a D.C. team that has struggled on the road, it was a welcome turn of events that led to Pontius’ 12th goal of the season. The controversy broke an evenly matched, back-and-forth game, with neither team generating consistent threats.
But off a D.C. corner, Kitchen sent a cross into the box that Horst attempted to clear in the air. Lowry was late in raising his flag, adding to the confusion. Replays didn’t show a clear hand ball on Horst.
The Timbers counter came on a through ball to Steven Smith on the left flank. Smith’s cross was initially broken up by D.C. midfielder Marcelo Saragosa, but Dike stayed with it and drove his shot past United goalkeeper Bill Hamid into the top of the net.
Portland, only mathematically still in the playoff race, will look to build on their roles as spoilers when they travel to Seattle next week for an Oct. 7 match where a Timbers win would give them the Cascadia Cup title.
D.C. United, meanwhile, continue their playoff quest on Oct. 6 at Toronto FC.
Lineups and boxscore (MLSsoccer.com)
Opta Chalkboard (MLSsoccer.com)