The Portland Timbers played the New England Revolution to a back and forth 4-4 draw at Gillette Stadium this morning.
Well ... at least the “eTimbers” did.
With the MLS season currently suspended in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19 (the coronavirus), the popular video game FIFA 20 was called upon to simulate the matchup between Portland and New England. Streamed via the Timbers social media platforms, fans were able to enjoy the eTimbers take on the eRevolution in a video game version of this morning’s originally scheduled game.
The simulated contest started off as one may have expected the real-life version to proceed. New England came out on the front foot, pressing the Timbers backline early. Jorge Villafana struggled with the pressure, and also with the fact that the details of his hairstyle weren’t quite captured accurately by his player model’s in-game design. Like in the real-life matches, Steve Clark kept Portland in the game with some great reaction saves. And also like real life, Diego Chara was shown a yellow card in the 11th minute — so you knew that this simulation was probably accurate.
All that early pressure paid off, as the eRevs took an early lead. An eRevs player was fouled at the top of the box, and virtual version of Cristian Penilla stepped up and fired a free kick into the top corner from 20 yards out. The game designers clearly did not make Clark’s player model tall enough, as the ball flew just past his outstretched pixels.
After the goal though, it was all eTimbers. Multiple counterattacks came by way of Yimmi Chara and Sebastian Blanco, and Brad Knighton was forced into action in the second part of the first period. Diego Valeri — whose in-game player model was, perhaps controversially, not sporting his real-life “samurai bun” hairstyle — had a one-time shot parried away by Knighton in the 24th minute. Multiple crosses and chances for Portland were cleared. It was as if whoever was playing as the eTimbers started to actually sit up and lean forward — the universal sign that things were being taken seriously.
Eventually, the team could be denied no longer. A very accurate approximation of a Timbers counterattack by the eTimbers started with Valeri finding Blanco with a through ball, whose cutback was calmly slotted home by Valeri to bring the teams level.
A counter-attack eMasterpiece. #RCTID | #NEvPOR pic.twitter.com/bsxzrQ4TJk— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) March 15, 2020
The eGoals wouldn’t end there, as Blanco added one himself soon thereafter. This time collecting the ball at the top of the box, Blanco slalomed and cut through the eRevs defense, scoring a goal that will no doubt warrant consideration for eGoal of the eWeek.
⚽️ ANOTHA ONE!— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) March 15, 2020
Sebastián Blanco takes it himself, tearing up the Revs backline for a birthday goal! Up 2-1 heading into the halftime break. #RCTID | #NEvPOR pic.twitter.com/FCogMOtbVb
They have yet to make models for coaches in FIFA, but if Gio Savarese had one, it would have been going wild on the sidelines in jubilation. The first half would end with Portland up 2-1 on New England.
If this game featured the real-life Timbers — especially the version that showed up last weekend — one might have expected them to start the second half looking to see the game out, protecting a lead by sitting back. But thankfully, these virtual eTimbers value entertainment over all else, so they came out just as aggressive as they had ended the half.
It unfortunately ended in the eTimbers being exposed for an eRevs equalizer in the 54th minute. Penilla found his way in behind the defense, who sent in a low cross for Adam Buksa to collect. Larrys Mabiala’s controller must have been broken, because he let Buksa slip in behind and then slot home past Clark to level things at two goals apiece.
Things wouldn’t stay that way for long though, as Andy Polo’s virtual self proved to be just as fast as his real-life self. He collected the ball on a counter, drove down the touchline, and sent in a brilliant cross for Felipe Mora. Mora, unmarked and in behind, took a touch and rifled the ball into the top corner, thus bringing eMora’s regular season goal tally to exceed real-life Mora’s regular season goal tally.
The eRevolution upped the pressure, trying to find an equalizer. The defense and Clark seemingly started playing on the “world class” difficulty setting, as they made crucial block after crucial block. With New England pushing so high, they were ripe to be eCountered, and that’s just what the eTimbers did: A slick counterattacking move and quick passing lead to the ball falling to the feet of Dairon Asprilla. It must have been the ePlayoffs, because eDairon fired a one-time shot into the top corner so beautifully, you would think you were watching the real Dairon in October.
Classic Dairon Asprilla.#RCTID | #NEvPOR pic.twitter.com/AcvFpRvpG9— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) March 15, 2020
With the game standing at 4-2 Portland in the 86th minute, things were seemingly put to bed. But as if the video gamed wanted to be some kind of cruel reminder of the last time these two teams met in the regular season, the virtual edition of this matchup would also feature late heartbreak.
First, eValeri skied an ePenalty in the closing minutes before stoppage time. Two minutes after that, Buksa beat Clark at the near post to bring the scoreline to 4-3. And then, with the last attacking chance of the game, a long cross found its way to Teal Bunbury, unmarked at the far post, who netted home the equalizer. Just like the real Timbers, the eTimbers couldn’t defend in transition. And, just like many real Timbers matches, this simulated Timbers match ended in disappointment, with Portland and New England drawing 4-4.
In a time when virtually all sporting leagues are suspended, and Timbers supporters have currently been asked to put their fandom on hold, even just watching our team play in video game form can be a fun exercise. And in a time when many of us are practicing social distancing and becoming increasingly worried by the news, some frivolous content like a simulated soccer game can be a welcome distraction from the ills of the world.
The team may be releasing more content like this while the team is on hiatus this next month. While it’s not real soccer, it’s engagement and entertainment focused on the club that we all love. We don’t know what the short-term future of the league and club will look like, and hopefully we all get to jump and clap and sing for the boys again at Providence Park soon. But for now, I say bring on the eTimbers, and let’s all enjoy the eRide.