By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx
It is impossible to sum up the events surrounding this weekend’s opening MLS game – Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC, but I’m going to try anyway. Here goes:
Now that it’s in the books, I’ll be honest, I was excited but a little nervous for the season opener. In the leadup, I was worried about our opener turning into a trap game. Pretty much everyone I talked to beforehand expected us to crush the expansion side, MNUFC, like bugs. As a Timbers supporter, of course, I had heard this story before (see, for example, Cal FC and Hollywood United), and had a grim appreciation for a surprise ending. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded.
As it turned out, it was a perfect way to open the season. The Timbers’ 5-1 victory over Minnesota United FC on Friday delivered on the promise of the preseason and then some. New additions David Guzmán & Sebastian Blanco had particularly auspicious MLS debuts. (My new nickname for Guzmán is Tenacious D.) And Blanco–oh my. He runs, everywhere, on both sides of the ball, and fast. I haven’t seen his heat map yet from Friday but it is probably a field-sized red rectangle. He plays smartly, simply, and quickly. And when the offense is moving, he is mentally a step ahead. As soon as Blanco knows that a ball is about to be sent his way, you can almost see him instantly calculating all available options for the next ball, more than ready for the quick one touch and on the run again.
The whole front four was as entertaining as advertised. Diego Valeri made mincemeat of MNUFC’s middle. He started the second half with a graceful header fed by Blanco that included a beautiful buildup by Alvas Powell and Fanendo Adi; and even though John Alvbage guessed correctly on the penalty, he was unable to stop Valeri’s clinical shot slotted to the lower left corner. Adi’s calm footwork up top was not only poetry, it directly led to his bagging two goals in stoppage time.
Darlington Nagbe and Blanco shredded MNUFC’s defense out wide. Nagbe dominated the left side, blowing past defenders without seeming to break a sweat. There were too many moments to love in this beatdown for me to list them all. If the front four plays like this every week, we might be in for a heck of a ride this year. It will be interesting to see how the team handles a challenging defensive line, though; I hardly think that e.g. a Nagbe-Taylor matchup is a fair predictor of our wing play overall this year.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lawrence Olum’s score to open the bank for the Timbers this season. Welcome back, Larry. I genuinely worry about that CB spot, but not only were you not terrible, you hustled. Thanks for holding down the fort until the next new Spinal Tap drummer–er, I mean Timbers starting center back–joins the squad.
One of the things I love about the Timbers Army and its nonprofit arm, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107IST), is that we take the positive energy directed at supporting our boys on the field and direct it to good work in the community. This Saturday marked the first day of futsal practice for a group of immigrant and refugee teens` sponsored by 107IST. Thanks to 107IST support, these recently arrived teens from countries throughout Africa and South Asia now have a regular, safe place to hold soccer practices.
Timbers Army fans donated preseason tickets to allow thirty IRCO teens and family members to attend. And 107IST member dues have now also paid for the teens’ futsal fees for March and April. A Timbers Army volunteer who works with the teens told me that Saturday’s futsal practice was the first time in a long time he’d seen his immigrant teen mentee smile and just be a happy kid. ❤
I love our supporters. So many work so hard to make sure that the match day atmosphere is second to none. That Bob Ross tifo? I don’t even know how WE’LL follow that one. And the front stand banners included an Arabic saying of Syrian origin (“When Danger Approaches, Sing To It”) as well as a “Spread The Love” banner in Arabic in the second half. Timbers Army supporters make their love for the more vulnerable among us evident, both in the community and in the stands.
And speaking of supporters, major props to MNUFC supporters, Dark Clouds and True North Elite. At least 150 supporters came out to stand and sing for Minnesota’s first MLS match on Friday, and we tried to treat them right. We invited them to our preseason opening party, including a chant off, on Thursday; and we hosted futsal pickup for both Timbers and MNUFC supporters on Saturday. Our love of beards, microbrews, politeness and bad weather probably binds us together more than we care to admit.
At the end of the afternoon on Saturday, the Africa House teens finished their practice and joined the Portland/Minnesota supporters for a joint scrimmage across two fields. It was absolutely beautiful.
I’ve had my share of soccer weekends, good, bad, and ugly. This one ranks among the best. See you next weekend for the Galaxy match!
*Team, Town, Timbers Army in the title refers to the three things that the nonprofit 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107IST) celebrates and supports when it comes to the city of Portland and the Portland Timbers. For more information about the 107IST, click here or drop me a line.
Featured image courtesy: Sheba Rawson twitter
Come chat with me on twitter: @shebainpdx