LIVE at Providence Park, where the Portland Timbers' hopes are higher than the tippy-top of a Douglas Fir.
It's the night Timbers Army has been pining for since Nov. 24, when PTFC's remarkable turnaround 2013 season was cut down in the Western Conference semifinals. Just 103 days later, anticipation has given way to expectation, as the first-time Major League Soccer playoff participants who lost just five times in 34 tries last season—once at home—are being picked to win the whole thing this time 'round.
And why not? The Timbers kept their core group, sharpened their attack and absorbed three months of reigning MLS Coach of the Year Caleb Porter's confidence. As MLS has suddenly become fond of saying, it all starts here, and it all starts against Philly. Coming off a up-and-down run to 7th place (12-12-10) in the East last year, the Union added U.S. National Teamer/FIFA '09 cover model Maurice Edu and veteran French star Vincent Nogueira to an attack that includes double-digit goal scorer Jack McInerney.
Portland counters with a group that certainly knows how to look intimidating whilst brandishing axes, along with debuts from Argentinian additions Gaston Fernández and Norberto Paparatto.
It's first kick, y'all! The rain is swirling, the North End is full and the replacement refs are (probably) shaking in their boots. So click past the jump and follow along, as I deftly describe the action—on and off the pitch.
IN THE EIGHTEEN:
Philly's First XI—(0-0-0, 0 pts)—Zac MacMath in goal. Austin Berry, Amobi Okugo, Raymon Gaddis and Fabinho on defense. Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueria and Brian Carroll at midfield. Jack McInerney, Sebastian Le Toux and Christian Maidana up front.
Available: Danny Cruz, Leonardo Fernandes, Aaron Wheeler, Corben Bone, Andre Blake, Michael Lahoud, Antoine Hoppenot.
Portland's First XI—(0-0-0, 0 pts)—Donovan Ricketts in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Norberto Paparatto, Pa Kah and Michael Harrington on defense. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Capt. Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe at midfield. Max Urruti and Gaston Fernández up front.
Riding pine: Andrew Weber, Futty Danso, Ben Zemanski, Kalif Alhassan, Michael Nanchoff, Steve Zakuani, Frederic Piquionne.
PREGAME: Looks like we'll have some tifo tonight, as three sets of rope hang above section 106. We'll also have a halftime presentation: Timbers OG Mick Hoban will join fellow Timbers legends Clive Charles, Jimmy Conway, John Bain and "Timber Jim" Serril in the Ring of Honor above the North End of the park. The Englishmen was the first Portland Timber signed when the team formed in 1975.
Three boxes of pyrotechnics have been wheeled out onto the (soon-to-be-grass?) pitch. I know they're there, but they'll still probably make me jump.
Timbers Army will sing the anthem en masse, much like they did to kick off the MLS era in 2011. 'Merica.
Porter led his coaching staff out on the field, rocking a rain coat and scarf. The Timbers will be wearing their all-green third kits, which are pretty spiffy. Philly sporting nearly-all-blue kits, with a white stripe down the middle.
FIRST HALF: And away we go! Timbers headed to the south side.
1st minute—Pressure early from Philly. They send one into the box, but to no avail. Urruti draws the first foul of the match.
3rd—Nice build-up for Portland leads to the first corner of the night. Fernandez sends it and KAH HITS THE POST! Johnson catches a piece of it and sends it far-post, and Kah goes to his knees to head it down, but it catches woodwork.
5th—Philly shows a little danger and earns a corner kick after McInerney knocks one off Harrington and over the line. Corner comes in, but nothing doing.
8th—Timbers with a bit of a counter and again showing off the quick-passing that is their trademark. Berry steps in front of a pass, though, and Philly takes over.
9th—Nagbe fouled just inside midfield by Edu. The most fouled player in 2013 is on pace to do it again!
10th—Timbers on a counter and Chara is leading the charge. He plays a nice through-ball into Urruti, who's a bit slow to shoot and has his attempt blocked. Nice build-up there again for Portland.
15th—First yellow of the match, and it's on Philly's Fabinho for having only one name.
19th—Philly showing well so far. Maidana putting a lot of pressure on Portland's back line. Lots running through the right side and Noguiera.
20th—Ricketts with two big saves! THe first is after Maidana does a lovely little turn near the top of the box and fires between two Portland defenders. Ricketts gets his paws on it, and it careens to the feet of Le Toux, who fires over the bar. First highlight of the season for Ricketts, who had plenty last year.
22nd—Philly corner kick comes in high and hot, and Ricketts comes off his line but can't get to it. Foul in the box on the Union, and we'll have goal kick. Fans will be holding their breaths on set pieces all season. It appears to be one of the few soft spots in this whole "Porterball" deal.
24th—Union free kick from way out after a Johnson foul on Le Toux. It's through everyone.
25th—Paparrato with a bad giveaway, but he's bailed out by Harrington, who chases down a Maidana pass to McInerney just in time. Feels like Philly is in control of this one for the most part.
26th—Nagbe dances his way past midfield and finds Urruti, who's fouled. Free kick coming from 40 yards out.
27th—Fernandez sends it in, but it's headed away by Philly. Dangerous ball, well defended.
30th—Valeri with a rare poor pass. He had Fernandez right where he wanted him, but left the pass just short. MacMath gets to it and clears.
31st—Le Toux with a free kick after a Jewsbury foul about 35 yards out. It's a great ball, but goes screaming through the pack and past a leaping Edu.
33rd—PAPARATTO WITH A HUGE SAVE! Maidana plays a great ball ahead to McInerney, who forces Ricketts off his line. McInerney with a cheeky little chip that's headed to the net, but Paparatto is there to kick it away.
34th—Timbers will be forced to go to the bench as Kah goes down. Futty will come on. That's a tough loss for the Timbers, but they're fortunate to have an experienced backup in Futty.
36th—Some good stuff from Portland as Chara brings it forward and plays it ahead to the final third. Valeri has his pass blocked, but some nice buildup for the home team.
39th—Lots of dangerous looking stuff from Portland leads to a corner. It was set up by Nagbe touching one to Urruti, who attempts one left-footed. Free kick comes in, but it's cleared out of danger.
40th—Fernandez draws a foul in a dangerous spot and loses his shoe in the process. We'll have a free kick from about 30 out.
41st—Johnson drives one right into the wall, and it pops over the line. Corner coming. It's sent in by Fernandez, and its bounced around a bit before being knocked out for a throw.
43rd—Chara with a great tackle and leads the break. Fernandez brings it down the left side and finds Valeri, who has a bit of space. He crushes one past a diving MacMath, but it's wide left. Nice job by Fernandez drawing the defense and springing Valeri for a run and shot. The wind has picked up—the rain appears to be going up.
No stoppage time indicated, so it's...
HALFTIME: And we're scoreless after 45 minutes. Philly has looked good on the attack, putting lots of pressure on a shaky Timbers defense. Some really nice possession and passing for both sides, but legit chances have been few and far between.
Some stats: Portland out-shot Philly 8-6 and won 54% of duels. They possessed 59.5% of the time.
SECOND HALF: Timbers headed toward their Army...and we're back at it!
46th—First foul of the half on Edu, who drags down Johnson in Portland's defensive half.
49th—Philly with a free kick about 50 yards out. Maidana sends it in left-footed but it's headed away. Timbers on the counter and Valeri ends up with it in front. He sidesteps one defender but can't get past a second, and here come the Union. Philly sends a cross that looks more like a shot and Ricketts is forced to touch it over the line.
50th—Le Toux gets it to Berry in the box but FUTTY WITH A BIG-TIME TACKLE. Philly still looking dangerous this half as the rain is really coming down now.
53rd—More danger from Philly. Noguiera springs Maidana in the box, who sends a ball through the legs of Paparatto, but out of danger. On the counter, Portland answers with a Harrington ball into Johnson. He tries to shoot, but it's knocked away.
56th—Foul called on Chara about 40 yards out, straight on. Timbers set up a 4-man wall. McInerney hits a worm-burner, and Ricketts is there to field it.
57th—Great opportunity for Portland after Johnson gets a steal in a dangerous spot. He beats the defender and back-heels one to Valeri, but HE WHIFFS ON IT! Wow, he'll wish he had that one back. Valeri had a point-blank shot at the goal there, but comes up empty.
59th—Nagbe leads the counter but is fouled just inside midfield. McInerney is shown a yellow card.
62nd—Urruti gets into the box and shoots/crosses for Fernandez, but it's off the mark.
63rd—Urruti again in the box and passes to a wide-open Nagbe in the middle, but the pass goes just behind him. Philly clears, but Portland is knocking at the door. On the other end, Maidana cuts inside past Futty and has a shot near-post and RICKETTS WITH A SAVE.
64th—UNION GOAL It's McInerney heading one in off a corner kick that was flicked on by Edu. It's a double-header and just like that, Philly leads, 1-0.
67th—Maidana has a free kick from a dangerous spot, about 40 yards out. He sends it in left-footed, but right at Ricketts.
69th—Fernandez goes down at the top of the box, and his hand touches the ball on the way down. Philly will bring on Cruz for Le Toux.
70th—Timbers net one, but Valeri is called for a handball in the box. Jewsbury sends a screamer of a cross in and it catches Valeri's arm.
73rd—Timbers will bring on Alhassan for Urruti. His first touch is a great over-the-top ball for Valeri, who makes a good run and knocks a ball into the box, but it's just behind Fernandez and in front of Johnson. Off night for Valeri, by his standards.
75th—Gaddis fouls Nagbe 35 yards out. Dangerous free kick coming.
76th—Fernandez curls it in, but it's cleared out of bounds. Fernandez throws it in for Johnson, who gets it Nagbe. Another throw and it's sent back to Alhassan, who earns a corner.
77th—Corner sent in high and Jewsbury just gets a piece of a header on it. Nagbe chases it down eventually Philly earns a goal kick after Nagbe dangerously plays one into the box for Fernandez. But it's defended well and we'll have a goal kick. Timbers knocking on the door once again, but are just shy of finishing.
79th—Corner (earned by Alhassan) sent in high. Jewsbury knocks it down to the area of Valeri, but just out of reach. Philly will make another sub: Hoppenot on for Maidana, who had a great match.
82nd—Hoppenot with a long run and into the box. Harrington has about enough of that and takes it away. Hoppenot goes down, but no foul.
83rd—Timbers have a free kick and it's a quick restart. Johnson sends it across the field and there's miscommunication between Paparatto and Alhassan as the ball goes skidding past them both.
84th—Timbers get it in the box. Johnson plays it back to Harrington, who tries to pop one ahead.
85th—Timbers sub: Zakuani makes his debut, coming on for Jewsbury. An attacker for a defender. Porter rolling the dice to try to pick up a point here.
86th—Another corner earned by Alhassan, who chips one in. It's curled in to Paparatto, but his header goes wide of goal.
87th—Philly sub: Wheeler comes on for McInerney.
88th—Zakuani dispossessed at the edge of the 18. That springs Hoppenot, who runs forward and is fouled by Chara. Yellow card pulled on Chara, and Portland is running out of time.
90th—Nagbe in the box, sprung by Fernandez, but Berry stands tall and takes it away.
THREE MINUTES OF STOPPAGE...Harrington fouls Hoppenot at the edge of the box. Taken short and Philly is just trying to kill time. Timbers win it back and Ricketts plays it short to Paparatto, who is forced to foul Cruz. Another free kick on a bad foul by Portland...Timbers down to their last chance...Harrington finds Zakuani, who hits a left footer that's deflected out for a corner. TIMBERS GOAL PORTLAND EQUALIZES IN THE LAST MINUTE OF THE MATCH! Fernandez heads it home on the corner and we're tied!
FULL TIME: It's a 1-1 draw salvaged by a timely Fernandez goal. Timbers score on their last gasp, and get the point. What a way to start the season. What a debut for Fernandez. What a finish.