Caleb Porter’s first inspirational halftime speech for the Portland Timbers did the trick.
The Timbers overcame two early goals by Fabian Espindola to forge a 3-all draw with the New York Red Bulls in both teams’ Major League Soccer season opener on Sunday night.
”It doesn’t happen very often, coming back from two goals down,” said Porter, who took over as head coach in Portland this season after seven seasons at the University of Akron. ”But this team has shown incredible toughness and resiliency.”
Espindola, a veteran acquired by New York in the offseason from Real Salt Lake, scored in the ninth and 24th minutes, while Jamison Olave, also obtained in the trade with RSL, added a goal in the 28th minute.
Argentine midfielder Diego Valeri scored his first goal for the Timbers, who played before a sellout crowd of 20,674 at Jeld-Wen Field. Darlington Nagbe’s goal in the second half pulled Portland to within 3-2 before an own goal that bounced off Olave in the 83rd minute tied it.
”We came into the locker room (at halftime) and said `Let’s push,”’ Timbers forward Ryan Johnson said. ”We figured that if we got the first one, the second one would come with momentum.”
Both teams had new coaches on the sideline.
The Red Bulls went 16-9-9 last season, tied for third in the Eastern Conference, but they got bumped out of the first round of the playoffs by rival D.C. United. New York subsequently dismissed coach Hans Backe and promoted Mike Petke, who served as an assistant the last two seasons after playing for the MetroStars from 1998-2002 and later the Red Bulls from 2008-2010, replaced Hans Backe.
”At the end of the day, we took a point on the road – but we let two slip away,” he said.
Portland went 8-16-10 last season to finish eighth in the Western Conference. Porter, who led Akron the NCAA championship in 2010, wore a suit on the sideline for his MLS coaching debut.
”This team continues to impress me, mostly with their determination and their talent,” he said.
One of Portland’s key offseason additions was Valeri, who was acquired from Argentina’s first division Club Atletico Lanus. The 26-year-old had been with Lanus nine seasons, scoring 25 goals in 158 matches. It was hoped that Valeri will help scoring for a team that was second-to-last in goals scored last season.
”It’s a long season. We have a lot of matches,” Valeri said. ”But I think we’re making a good team.”
The Red Bulls struck early with a goal from MLS veteran Espindola, acquired with Olave from Real Salt Lake in a three-way trade that also sent midfielder Will Johnson to the Timbers for allocation money.
Espindola, who had nine goals and seven assists in 30 games last season with RSL, charged the box for his first goal, taking advantage when tumbling goal keeper Donovan Ricketts failed to control the ball.
Valeri scored the equalizer, bounding between two defenders and firing out of New York keeper Luis Robles’ reach in the 13th minute. But Espindola put the Red Bulls back ahead with a left-footed rocket from the right side.
Olave scored off a cross from Heath Pearce to put New York up 3-1.
Petke said the Red Bulls played like they were trying to save the lead in the second half – missing the aggressiveness they had in the first.
”Portland’s a good team,” he said. ”They threw everything at us.”
Portland narrowed the match after the break when Nagbe rebounded a shot off Robles in the 56th minute, before the own goal caromed off Olave and past Robles as the clock wound down. Portland had a chance to win it in the final minute, but Robles saved a shot by Ryan Johnson.
The Timbers outshot the Red Bulls 21-10 and maintained possession for 63 percent of the match. They played without veteran midfielder Jack Jewsbury, the club captain, who is nursing a sore hamstring.
The Red Bulls are 2-0-2 against the Timbers, who joined MLS in 2011. Portland is now 2-0-1 in season openers.