Portland spoils Minnesota United’s MLS debut
PORTLAND, Ore. — Disappointed at the way last season ended, the Portland Timbers moved on with a decisive win over the expansion Minnesota United.
Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi each scored twice for the Timbers in the 5-1 victory on Friday night in the first match of the year for Major League Soccer, now in its 22nd season. The rest of the 22 teams will play this weekend.
Newcomer Lawrence Olum scored for the Timbers in the 14th minute. Valeri’s first goal came on a header in the 47th before he added another on a penalty kick in the 82nd.
Adi, who led the Timbers last season with 16 goals, scored twice in extra time, and the sellout crowd chanted “Adi! Adi!”
“This group, when they want to score, and they want to play aggressive, is scary,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.
Portland has never dropped a home opener since it joined MLS in 2011, getting four wins and three draws.
Christian Ramirez narrowed the match with a goal in the 79th minute for Minnesota, which was making its MLS debut after playing the past six seasons in the North American Soccer League.
“That’s a good team, Minnesota, they’re going to beat some teams,” Porter said about the Loons. “I thought they showed some real bright spots in their team. To go 2-1, when you look at that margin, it could’ve gone the other way. That was the one thing for me that I said to the guys, at 2-0 we have to go for the jugular and make it three and put the game away.”
The Timbers were 12-14-8 last season, finishing seventh in the Western Conference and missing out on the playoffs after winning the MLS Cup in 2015.
Coach Caleb Porter said in the preseason that the team had aimed in the offseason to shore up its starting-caliber depth so that injuries don’t impact Portland like last season. The addition of new players, including Sebastian Blanco and David Guzman, has appeared to give the team spark.
Minnesota has taken a slow and steady approach to building its roster, borrowing some players from its NASL roster last season including Ramirez, who had 18 goals last season.
Star forward Kevin Molino played two seasons with Orlando City before rejoining coach Adrian Heath in Minnesota. Molino’s season was cut short by injury his first season in Orlando, but last year he scored in a 4-1 win over the Timbers.
The teams met in 2010 when both were part of USSF Division 2, the season before Portland joined MLS. They also played to a 2-all draw in a preseason tournament in Portland last month, with John Venegas scoring both goals for the Loons.
“It’s been a strange evening, with the way the game ended, because I though we started a little bit apprehensive, but we grew into the game in the first half. And second half, I thought we started to impose ourselves a little bit,” Heath said. “Somebody just said we had the most possession this evening, which surprised me. But I thought we were in the game.”
Olum appeared to catch a piece of a deflected free kick, and it came off his foot at a high arc into the goal to put Portland up 1-0. Olum came to the Timbers last month in a trade with Sporting Kansas City.
Valeri’s goal opened the second half for the Timbers. He headed in Blanco’s perfectly-placed cross for his first-ever header in regular season play.
Blanco came to Portland in the offseason from his native Argentina, where he played with San Lorenzo in the top division. He was treated to enthusiastic applause when he was subbed out in the 77th minute.
Ramirez got past goalkeeper Jake Gleeson with a rocket from out in front of the net to narrow the score to 2-1.
Shortly after Ramirez’s goal, Valeri beat goalkeeper John Alvbage on the penalty kick. And Adi capped it with his goals.
“I’m just going to take the positives out of it. I just wanted to get us some life, down 2-0,” Ramirez said. “And I thought it gave us a bit, and then the penalty killed it. Growing pains, but it felt nice.”
Portland has sold out every game since joining MLS.