The Portland Timbers got their first win of the 2021 MLS campaign, as they dispatched the Houston Dynamo 2-1 in their league opener in front of a limited capacity Providence Park. Portland took the lead early through Dairon Asprilla, but Houston would equalize on an own goal off a set piece. Portland would eventually find the winner via Cristhian Paredes in the second half, which would prove to be the difference for the home side.
The match started with a different lineup than the past three matches. With the first leg of their round of 16 matchup against Club America in the Concacaf Champions League looming on Wednesday night, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese chose to rotate the lineup for the matchup against Houston. After featuring the same starting eleven for three straight matches, Saturday presented an opportunity to give some players a rest, as Portland navigates a very congested next two weeks of fixtures.
The first half got the fireworks going early, as Portland was very active in the attack, catching Houston on their backfoot. Timbers debutante and homegrown attacker Blake Bodily lead the line for the Timbers in the first half, causing problems early with his movement around the Houston backline.
It wasn’t long before that activity payed off. Off of a throw in, Bodily shook his defender and laid the ball back to Pablo Bonilla, who did well to skim past his defender and send a cross into the box. The ball bounced it’s way to Dairon Asprilla making a run towards the ball, who skillfully flicked a far post finish past former Timbers defender Zarek Valentin. The Timbers had a 1-0 lead only six minutes into the match.
In a touching moment, the entire Timbers team huddled around Diego Valeri in celebration. Valeri, who began the game on the bench, lost his father Luis earlier this week. It represented a moving moment of team unity and condolence and as they rallied around their team captain.
As has been their recent trend, after scoring the Timbers let their foot off the gas pedal yet again. The opening goal seemingly waking them up, the Houston Dynamo very quickly upped the pressure, gaining more possession and generating more scoring opportunities.
Claudio Bravo in particular had his hands full with the resurgent Dynamo, especially with their wingers. He started the game contending with Fafa Picault, but started to have real problems once Houston switched Tyler Pasher over to the left side. The Canadian winger frequently found himself running at the Argentine defender, and getting past him with worrying frequency.
That pressure would finally pay off in the 28th minute, as Houston exploited Portland’s weakness in defending set pieces. After winning a corner, the visitors went quick and played it short. Pasher sent in a curling cross, and the Timbers couldn’t deal with it, as it bounced past Jeff Attinella and into the net.
Initially thought to be off of Oscar Boniek Garcia, the goal was eventually ruled as an own goal off of the head of Cristhian Paredes. The goal scorer may have initially been unclear, but the result wasn’t. The Timbers had once again let in a goal off a set piece, once again given up a lead, and were tied with Houston at one-all.
The first half would end with the sides knotted at one, which was a fair scoreline based on the balance of play up to that point.
The second half would begin with a pair of subs for Portland, as Dario Zuparic would replace Larrys Mabiala, in a pre-planned move to keeps legs fresh in advance of CCL action. Valeri also subbed on, replacing Yimmi Chara.
The second half would begin slowly, as Houston sought to take some of the air out of the match, and keep Portland in front of them. They succeeded for the better part of the first 15 minutes, as Portland wasn’t able to get much going in front of the goal.
That started to change in the 59th minute, when the Timbers subbed on Felipe Mora for Bodily. With a more natural striker leading the line, more spaces started to open up for Portland’s wingers and midfielders. With Valeri pulling the strings, there were multiple shooting opportunities for the likes of Marvin Loria and Asprilla, but none of them could be put in the net.
None, until the 73rd minute. Going route one, Bill Tuiloma pinged a ball far upfield for Mora. Mora did well to square up and head the ball down, while also falling down. The ball found the foot of a streaking Cristhian Paredes, who sprinted through and connected sweetly with the ball first time to rifle it home into the net and give the home side the lead.
Their deserved lead obtained, the Timbers sought to see out the game against growing waves of Dynamo pressure. There were multiple moments where Houston found good spots, but the Portland defense did just enough to throw off the shot or make a block.
But the specter of dropped results from 2020 nearly reared its head again. There was one moment in the 84th minute when Pasher found himself just through on goal past the Timbers defense, but he couldn’t keep the attempt on frame, and the Timbers escaped another late-game meltdown.
Portland had numerous chances late in the game to truly put the game out of touch, with a wonderful break ending with the ball at the feet of Valeri right in front of the goal, but he couldn’t keep his shot on frame. Mora had a chance off of an Asprilla cross, but it was just beyond him. Josecarlos Van Rankin, a late game substitute, had a golden opportunity, which he put wide and high.
Despite the numerous missed chances, they would wind up being inconsequential to the final result, as Portland saw out the game for a 2-1 home win. The result was especially impressive considering the nature of the rotated and makeshift lineup. It was a good anathema to the bad taste left in our mouths after last week’s MLS opening weekend loss.
The Timbers will be looking to capitalize on this momentum as they head into their next match, where they will be facing Liga MX giants Club America on Wednesday night at Providence in the round of 16 in the Concacaf Champions League.