The Portland Timbers battled back to earn a well deserved 3-3 tie on a beautiful Sunday evening opening night game. It was a nightmare start for new head coach Caleb Porter, which saw his team give up 3 goals in the first 30 minutes, two of those on bad defensive mistakes. But the Timbers settled down, took control of the game and completely dominated the second half, scoring two goals and almost grabbing the game winner in the final minutes. New Argentinian central midfielder Diego Valeri was a revelation, scoring a fantastic early goal to bring the Timbers level after falling behind by one goal early. The Timbers showed heart, and determination in battling back to salvage the tie on a rebound goal by Darlington Nagbe and an own goal by New York, something that has often been missing in the first two MLS years. The Timbers have won their previous two home openers in spectacular fashion, sending their fans home crazed with high expectations, only to see the team crumble as the season progressed. Timber fans should take what they saw on Sunday with a grain of salt and wait to see whether the team can repeat the style, hard work and grit they showed against New York.
Caleb Porter’s new system was spectacular to watch and gives Timber’s fans real hope that this year will be different. The Timbers outshot New York 21-9 and were constantly threatening the Red Bull goal all evening. Porter was able to fire up his squad at half time and you could feel the energy in the stands; the fans knew it was just a matter of time before the Timbers scored and then earned the equalizer. He made all the right moves and wasn’t afraid to go to his bench early which netted results. Again, time will tell, but after one game Porter certainly looks like he has the team on the right track.
The Timbers Army was in fine form as usual, singing the national anthem in what has now become a home opener tradition. The tifo display to open the game was also first class with a huge banner, green and white umbrellas in the front section and blue streamers “raining down” from the section above. Early game disappointment made way for second half delirium as the best fans in North America never gave up on their boys. It was a good night to be in the Army.
As stated earlier, midfielder Valeri was everything Timbers fans dreamed he would be and more. His spectacular goal early in the game is almost sure to be the MLS Goal of the week and a front runner for Goal of the Year. Valeri managed to get in four volleys on the play-first off his toe, then knee, then chest and then a cheeky side footed volley into the net that has Timber fans salivating over his skills. He was dangerous all night distributing, running at the defense and looking to score, and his hard shot led to the rebound goal that Nagbe poached. A great debut to his Timbers career with hopefully more to come.
Nagbe looked dangerous at times and showed the flair and skill that the Timbers have been hoping he can unleash on a more regular basis. He looked much more comfortable in his role in Porters system and very exciting at times. Hopefully Porter can continue to pull these types of performances out of his young star-to-be.
New Striker Ryan Johnson was not especially visible throughout the game, until the final moments when his spectacular bicycle kick just missed the goal by about a foot. If Johnson had made that game winner he would have become an instant Timber legend; hopefully he has some more tricks up his sleeve.
Timber fans got their first real look at youngster Jose Valencia when he entered the game in the 73 minute. The rangy attacker inserted himself into the play and was able to gather in an attempted clearance at the side of the goal box, fight off a defender and fire a hard and low cross that deflected off the defender and into the net for the equalizer. It was a wonderful start for the Columbian, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
New captain Will Johnson was everything that was promised. He was fiery, passionate, hard nosed, all over the field and just plain played his butt off. He has already earned the respect of the fans and looks like he was a very smart addition to the team and a great choice as on field captain.
New outside defenders Ryan Miller and Michael Harrington looked comfortable in Porters system, consistently pushing forward on the wings. They are a great improvement over last year. Sal Zizzo, who was tried as a forward, midfielder and defender in the preseason, came on as a sub at right back and looked very dangerous in that role. Unfortunately Zizzo suffered a kneee injury in practice following the game, had minor surgery and is expected to miss the next 4 wees. A minor blow to Porter’s plans, but still disappointing after a nice opening.
Central defender Mikael Silvestre did not make the kind of impression that I’m sure he had hoped for. Silvestre just arrived in Portland Friday night and had not had a chance to train on the pitch at Jeld Wen Field. He struggled early and has taken the blame for the first two goals the Timbers conceeded. Confusion between he and goal keeper Donovan Rickets in the goal mouth led to the first New York goal, although in my opinion, the goal was more Ricketts fault. Silvestre totally misplayed a loose ball on the wing that led directly to the Red Bulls second goal. After that he settled down, and completely marked New York star striker Thierry Henry out of the game. Silvestre is a real pro; expect to see him shake off his poor first half performance and give the Timbers a solid presence in the middle of the defense.