The Portland Timbers started up their 2009 campaign on Saturday in Burnaby British Columbia, against The Whitecaps, a 0-1-2 team that had played a few games before the Timbers got a chance to launch their season: the pleasures of USL scheduling. As I covered in the pregame column, this Timbers team kept only a handful of players from last year's roster, and even fewer made the starting XI.

Timbers fans always temper expectations when the Lads go to play in Vancouver— the Timbers have one ONCE at the WhiteCaps stadium in Burnaby. Those tempered expectations were useful, as the Timbers fell 1-0 on an absolutely unpreventable goal from Martin Nash in the 63rd minute.

All the details below the fold.

The starting XI for Saturday's match:

Nishimura, Knowles, Keel, Hayes
Savage, Claesson, McManus, Pore
Keita, Suzuki
That's two players from PTFC2k8: Defense Secretary Knowles, and Suzuki, who in this joke probably ends up as some mid-level policy wonk in the State department.

The Good:
— Holy Crap is our midfield better. Pore had an good game streaking up and down the wings and passed well, but choked a few shots. Claesson is a stud, and we held possession well, as opposed to last year when the defense would sky balls forward in the hopes that something spectacular would happen. Tony McManus doesn't wear shinguards. Hardcore.

— Timbers Army at home and away: more than 100 Army made the trek to Vancouver, and did well to drown out the 30 Southsiders. Early reports note that the douchebag who threw a cup on the pitch was summarily executed by chainsaw. Beulahland was straining at the seams to fit all the TA in for the broadcast.

— Suzuki had life in his legs and a bounce in his step, but...

The Bad:
— I'm not sure Mandjou Keita knew he was playing in a footie match. He guffed at least two honest to god my-infant-nephew-could-score-that chances.

— Our defense was crap. Nishimura got the start in front of Sco-T, to the chagrin of many, and Keel kept losing 'Caps start striker Gbeke on set pieces. Nishimura did well getting forward, and didn't play badly, but I'm not sure if he's an upgrade over Sco-T. Hayes and Keel got beaten more than a few times one-on-one, and Knowles was solid but slow. I'm not sure if it was failure on an individual level or bad organization & team work: there were no successful offside traps (as best I can remember) and set piece defending was scandalously bad, but this cannot continue. I'm hoping it's a communication issue, because that's the easiest to fix.

— Bad defense exposed bad goalkeeping, as Cronin stopped trusting his defenders early on and did some seriously bone-headed things, including nearly handling the ball outside the box. The referree and the goalpost prevented the same number of goals (3) that Cronin did. That said, the goal from Martin Nash was unstoppable.

— Bad Coaching: Mandjou should have come out somewhere near halftime, and Subbing out your defenders near the 90th minute is a TIME WASTING TACTIC USED BY TEAMS WHO ARE WINNING, not a way to juice your offense in stoppage time. Nishimura, Keel and Hayes all came out in the 89th minute, effectively wasting half of the stoppage time during which the Timbers could have, y'know, tried to win. It's not just me: Roberto thinks so too.

All in all, it's about the game I expected. This team is clearly better than the team last year and when they start gelling and flowing as a team, they could be very dangerous. I predict some fireworks over the next month and we'll have a contender by July.
Next Up:
The Timbers face the undefeated Carolina Railhawks this Thursday (4/30) for the home opener, and again on Saturday. Go scream your heads off and enjoy the weather.