The Portland Timbers started their 2020 season off with a concerning 3-1 loss at home to Western Conference foes Minnesota United FC. The Timbers were repeatedly caught off balance as they struggled to find clear scoring chances throughout the night and ultimately even a strong performance in goal from Steve Clark could not keep them from getting run over by the Loons.
Despite dominating possession early in the match, chances were hard to come by for the Timbers as they looked to work the ball through a packed-in Minnesota midfield. After an earlier appeal for a penalty was denied, it took the Timbers until the 16th minute to manage a substantial chance. Receiving the ball in the Loons’ end, Felipe Mora cut toward the top of the box, touched the ball around an errant leg stuck out by Osvaldo Alonso, and hit a curling shot from 20 yards out that swung just wide of goal.
In the 22nd minute the Timbers came close again. After Mora and Diego Valeri combined for a series of short passes down the right flank, the Maestro slipped a low ball into the box for Mora to run onto. The forward found the ball in space inside the eighteen and slipped a ball back into the path of Sebastian Blanco who took it on the run and hit a first time shot that skidded wide of the far post.
Blanco’s chance marked the end of a long period of possession from the Timbers and halfway through the first half Minnesota shook themselves to life. Taking a physical approach to the Timbers’ quick passing and interplay, the Loons were able to disrupt the Timbers attack and put their own stamp on the match — sometimes literally as they finished the first half having committed 11 fouls to the Timbers’ five.
After the break the Timbers came out looking to reassert themselves on the match, but it was the visitors who broke the deadlock. In the 51st minute Minnesota caught the Timbers down the pitch and hit out on the counter. With only Dario Zuparic back, Ethan Finley drew the Timbers’ center back out to the wing before playing a ball into space for the run of Robin Lod at the top of the box. As the winger arrived at the ball so did Steve Clark who was able to slide in and knock the ball away. Clark’s block only went as far as Kyle Molino, however, and the veteran playmaker was able to juggle the ball once before putting a simple finish into the open net.
Five minutes later the Timbers were able to draw even. After a lung-busting run down the pitch, Yimmi Chara slipped a ball into the box for a diagonal run from Mora. As he ran onto the ball, Mora controlled it and spun toward the center of the pitch only to have his legs taken out by the boot of Ike Opara. As Mora went to the ground, referee Ismail Elfath quickly pointed to the spot. With the penalty awarded, Valeri stepped up and hit a side-footed shot just inside the post that sent Miller sprawling in the wrong direction as it hit the back of the net.
Moments after the Timbers goal, Minnesota came close to retaking the lead. After a floating cross fell to Luis Amarilla at the back post, Amarilla played the ball back into the path of Lod. As the ball rolled into his path, Lod hit a low, first-time shot that forced Steve Clark to get down quickly and push the ball around the post.
As the second half ground on the Timbers continued to give up counter attacking chances and, in the 76th and 78th minutes, it came back to bite them. First a floating cross from Finlay dropped to Amarillo at the back post, just skimming over the head of Larrys Mabiala, and the Loons striker hammered a header on goal, squeezing the ball through the legs of Clark for a 2-1 lead. Then, just two minutes later, the Loons played a ball into the Timbers box that popped up into the air and fell to Molino in space inside the box where the winger took it on the volley and smashed home his shot to extend the lead to 3-1.
The Timbers are at home again next Sunday, March 7th, when they will host expansion side Nashville SC in the second match of the season.