A year ago, the Portland Timbers were defending champions and intent on repeating. A year ago, the Minnesota United FC did not exist as an MLS team.
The Timbers know the feeling of being an expansion team since they entered the league in 2011 and were champions four years later.
On Friday, Portland will begin rebounding from a disappointing title defense when it visits Minnesota at Providence Park in Portland, Ore.
Portland finished seventh in the Western Conference and 12th overall last season with a 12-14-8 record, residing two points behind Real Salt Lake for the sixth and final playoff spot. A primary reason for Portland’s unsuccessful title defense was an 0-11-6 record away from home and the Western Conference’s worst defense.
“I think every single guy has just looked locked in and hungry and positive,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “There’s a different edge to the team this year, a different hunger and a different energy in the locker room.”
Most of last year’s roster remains and the only additions were midfielder David Guzman of Costa Rica and Argentine designated player Sebastian Blanco, who are considered defensive players. Guzman signed a two-year deal after recently playing with Deportivo Saprissa for the past seven seasons while Blanco spent the last two years playing for San Lorenzo.
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“I see a lot of potential in this team,” Blanco told the Oregonian through an interpreter. “Everything seems to be coming together. We’re looking forward to getting things started.”
Like many expansion teams, expectations are low for Minnesota. However, since being announced as a new team last August, the United are trying to dispel those predictions, including one by Sports Illustrated that projected five wins.
“We’ve worked with a team spirit,” Minnesota captain Vadim Demidov told the team’s official website. “Of course, we’re a new team, so a lot of new faces, but I think we have something good going on. But we’ll see on Friday. Friday’s our exam. We’re going to put in 100 percent effort for Friday.”
Among the notable players for Minnesota is midfielder Kevin Molino. His 11 goals for Orlando City SC ranked 16th in the league last season and played under Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath in the last five campaigns in the United Soccer League before the team moved up to the MLS in 2015.
Heath was fired by Orlando midway through last season and isn’t concerned with Molino’s reputation. During training camp with the Trinidad and Tobago national team, he was reprimanded twice for breaking curfew to go to parties.
“I know him inside and out,” Heath told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I certainly have no worries about Kevin on or off the field. He is a delight to work with. He is a professional and a great teammate.”
Since 1998, expansion teams are 4-7-3 in their inaugural MLS matches.