Promising Start to the Season for the Portland Timbers
In the pouring rain in a nationally televised game, the Portland Timbers pulled off a convincing win to open their 2012 campaign against the Philadelphia Union. The Timbers rallied to beat the Union after conceding the first goal of the match on a free kick, a feat that they did not accomplish during their entire first season in MLS.
Many had questioned where the Timbers would get their goals after trading last years’ leading scorer, Kenny Cooper, to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for a 2013 first round draft pick and an undisclosed amount of allocation money. But there was no shortage of goals for the Rose City squad, who came back almost immediately after giving up the opening goal.
In the opening half, as was to be expected in an opening match, the pace was furious for the first 15-20 minutes. The team’s kept running back and forth, up and down, without ever really controlling the ball. There were two or three good chances in the opening quarter hour for the Timbers, especially in the thirteenth minute when Diego Chara led a 4 on 3 break but could not complete a cross to a wide-open Kalif Alhassan. However despite the fact that the Timbers had the majority of the chances in the first half, they could not make the final pass and the teams went into the locker room scoreless. After the adrenaline wore off after the opening twenty minutes, the teams calmed down and the run of play slowed, almost to a crawl at points. But the Timbers Army was in store for quite a show in the second half.
After Gabriel Enrique Gomez netted the first goal of the match on a 51st minute free kick, I had flash backs of games last season when the Timbers would look to be on the attack for the majority of the game only to concede and not be able to respond. There was a feeling of “here we go again.” But this season maybe things will be different. Almost immediately after conceding, the Timbers were back to their attacking ways, pushing even harder than they had in the opening half and they were rewarded for their perseverance. In the 53rd minute, rookie center defenseman Andrew Jean-Baptiste netted the first goal of the game for the Timbers after Zac MacMath fumbled the ball. Score one for the Portland rain.
From there the match was all Timbers. Portland had many more chances and finally broke through again in the 66th minute when another new addition, the Scot Kris Boyd, scored on a beautiful back post header from Alhassan. Boyd had another chance in the 73rd minute off a Jack Jewsbury corner but the shot was saved by MacMath.
The icing on the cake came in the 76th minute when Kalif Alhassan took a short Jewsbury corner, drove past his marker and chipped the ball in the back of the net to the delight of the Timbers Army. The goal was Alhassan’s first in Major League Soccer, which is surprising considering his at times electrifying play last season.
The main takeaways from the Timbers opening game for me were that this is a resilient, extremely athletic squad who I think will be a real contender in the West. There is not one player on the Timbers who can’t run and they looked the best, and coincidently played the most attractive soccer, when they pushed the break and played counterattacking ball. Hopefully that style of play continues throughout the season and the Timbers don’t mirror their NBA counterparts, the Zers, who started out the season run and gun and now have slowed to a snails’ pace and are losing games as fast as they once played. Hopefully, we’ll see less long searching balls that ultimately end up at the feet of defenders this season and more short, triangle passing in order to take advantage of the athleticism and touch that was on display today.
Kris Boyd and Kalif Alhassan look like they have great early chemistry as a forward duo. It seemed as if Alhassan and Kenny Cooper never really gelled last season when Cooper hung out and tried to cherry pick long balls over the top, leaving Alhassan out of the equation. If this is what Alhassan and Boyd produced this early in the season, they could be difference makers in the coming months, and they’ll have to be for this team to be successful. Most importantly, the Timbers don’t look like they’re going to give up. Judging by their response to conceding first, this could be a great season for the Rose City. RCTID.