Claudio Bravo’s suspension against LAFC last week saw the Timbers’ rookie draft pick Justin Rasmussen make his club debut at left back, despite the return to the matchday squad for Dario Zuparic, Larrys Mabiala, and Pablo Bonilla.
The opening 15 minutes of the game were relatively cagey, with both sides unable to retain possession for any sustained period. The best chance came in the 13th minute when Yimmi Chara played the ball to Dairon Asprilla on the edge of the 18-yard box, but his powerful strike hit Jaroslaw Niezgoda and bounced out for an Austin goal kick.
The Timbers probably should have scored in the 24th minute of the game after a Niezgoda toe-poke sent Asprilla, who had a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. But, instead of taking the chance with his left foot, Asprilla cut back onto his right, which allowed the shot to be blocked. The rebound then fell to Niezgoda, who did well to bring the ball onto his right foot before slicing a shot wide of the net.
Austin FC thought they had taken the lead in the 32nd minute through Sebastian Driussi, who had an unmarked tap-in at the doorstep. Luckily for the Timbers, the linesman’s flag was raised straight away for offside.
The Timbers came close to opening the scoring again in the 40th minute — this time through Bill Tuiloma. The center back did well to get a glancing header onto an inch-perfect cross from Justin Rasmussen, but the outside of the post denied the New Zealand international and kept the score level heading into the break.
All things considered, the first half was an extremely even one. Austin FC outshot the Timbers 8-7 and controlled 59 percent of the possession. However, for my money, the Timbers had the better of the chances between the sides.
Portland would finally find their breakthrough goal in the 62nd minute of the match when Tuiloma got on the end of a Yimmi Chara free kick. Tuiloma timed his run to perfection to get in front of Austin FC’s Ruben Gabrielsen and his diving header found the back of the net after he struck the woodwork in the first half.
After the goal, Austin FC applied heavy pressure on the Timbers goal, but Tuiloma, Zac McGraw, and Aljaz Ivacic stood tall and defended extraordinarily well. In the 74th minute, Giovanni Savarese brought Sebastian Blanco and new signing David Ayala off the bench, which gave the Timbers some much-needed possession and relieved the pressure applied by Austin FC in the second half.
In the end, Tuiloma’s header in the 62nd minute was enough to give the Timbers all three points and their first win of the 2022 MLS campaign. The defense once again played extremely well under a lot of Austin FC pressure, and the three debutants — Rasmussen, Ayala, and Gutierrez all looked very comfortable on the pitch.
It was a good win from the Timbers against a very strong side; a win they will hopefully be able to build upon.
The Timbers travel down to Texas for their next match against FC Dallas on Saturday, March 19. Kickoff in Frisco, TX is slated for 5:30 p.m. PST.