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T2sday: The First Two Games

T2’s first two weeks back in operation had a home loss in Hillsboro and a dramatic shootout in Canada.

Portland Timbers 2

Welcome to T2sday! Your weekly recap of the results and goings-on of Portland Timbers 2, the Timbers reserve team playing in the MLS NEXT Pro reserve league, delivered every Tuesday.

This week: T2’s first two games of the year.

After a year-and-a-half on hiatus, T2 is back. Portland Timbers 2, the reserve side for the Portland Timbers first team, is back in operation in 2022, playing in the newly created MLS NEXT Pro league (the league with the really funny looking font). Sitting in the third tier of the American soccer pyramid, MLS NEXT Pro is meant to serve as a developmental league for MLS first teams. All but one team are subsidiaries of MLS teams; the lone exception being the independent team Rochester New York FC (RIP, Rochester Rhinos).

T2 occupies a needed space for the Timbers. It’s a team where academy players, many of whom featured in Portland’s MLS preseason, can get consistent competitive minutes to help further their development. It’s a place where first team players can get game time to stay sharp, work their way back from injury, or further develop. It’s also a place where potential first team contributors, whether they’re academy products or T2-specific signings, can earn their way into first team contracts.

So the return of T2 is a very welcome one to PTFC.

3/30: Portland Timbers 2 v. San Jose Earthquakes II: 0–2

The first game of the new era of T2 got off to a bit of a sputtering start. Timbers 2 squared off against Earthquakes II in their inaugural game of the MLS NEXT Pro season, which was played at Portland’s home venue, Hillsboro Stadium.

The roster for the inaugural game featured many first team players loaned down to T2 for the game.

(The number 72, by the way, is Timbers draft pick Julian Bravo; no relation to the first team left back, Claudio Bravo. And the Moreno listed on the bench is Alex Moreno; no relation to Santiago Moreno. Learning the T2 roster will be a, uh, learning process.)

The first half was a cagey affair, with Earthquakes II getting the majority of the big scoring chances. T2 held their own through some stout defending and Hunter Sulte’s goalkeeping intervention. Offensively, however, T2 was inconsistent, and they were only able to muster four total shots in the game.

Meanwhile, Earthquakes II fired off 13 total shots; 6 of which were on goal. Two of those found the back of the net, four minutes from each other in the second half. San Jose jumped out to a 2–0 lead, scoring in the 65th and 69th minute. After conceding, T2 made a nice recovery and started to press matters, but they were unable to make anything happen. The final whistle blew, and T2 dropped their first game 0–2 at home.

Despite the loss, T2 head coach, Shannon Murray, was encouraged by how his team started to gel in the game, especially in the second half. “It’s a good starting point for what we are trying to accomplish, and we made some good strides tonight,” Murray shared after the game. “Of course, we want to win every game, but at the same time, you know, it’s about learning how to win the games, and that’s a piece of the puzzle we learned a little bit tonight.”

You can view the match report for the game here and watch the highlights for yourself here.

4/10: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 v. Portland Timbers 2: 2* (T2 wins penalty kick shootout 4–1)

A lovely little quirk of the MLS NEXT Pro competition guidelines is that no game can end in a tie. Taking a page from the NHL, regular season games that end in a tie after regulation go straight to a penalty kick shootout. The winning team collects two points, and the losing team wins just one point.

(You can read the full competition rules for yourself here.)

It was through this mechanism that T2 won their first two points of the season — but it was not a straightforward road to get there. In fact, it was quite the emotional roller coaster.

In the dying stages of the first half, first team right back Pablo Bonilla (making the most of his MLS red card suspension) went on a slaloming dribble into the box and cut back a ball to the penalty spot. Academy forward Jamin Gogo Peters was there to turn the ball towards the goal, and it found the back of the net through a tangle of bodies. It felt fitting that a Timbers Academy product scored T2’s first goal in MLS NEXT Pro.

The 1–0 lead held into the second half, as Whitecaps 2 pushed for an equalizer. They found it the 76th minute, by virtue of the penalty spot. Zac McGraw, loaned to T2 to the game, challenged a Vancouver attacker in the box from behind. The forward went flying to the ground, and the referee pointed to the spot. Vancouver made no mistake and tied the match at 1-1 after scoring their penalty.

T2 thought they’d nabbed the winner on the 84th minute, with Bonilla again playing the role of provider. The right back drove towards the box and launched a cross in towards Blake Bodily. The attacker worked free of his defender and redirected the ball with his head into the back of the net. 2–1 to the Tiny Trees.

Taking after their first team counterparts the day before, however, T2 let Vancouver back into the game. A last gasp equalizer came in the fifth minute of stoppage time, right before the final whistle blew. Regulation time ended with the teams knotted at two-all, and penalty kicks commenced.

T2 performed admirably in spot kicks, going perfect from the spot with their first four takers. Vancouver’s first two players missed their kicks badly, with their third taker giving them a glimmer of hope by scoring his. But the fourth T2 penalty taker buried this chance, giving T2 the win and their first points of the year.

The match report can be found here, and you can view the full match highlights here.

Closing Notes

  • The effect that T2 could have is already apparent: Bonilla got to play ninety minutes, even while serving a suspension, and players like Justin Rasmussen and David Ayala are getting minutes to help them develop.
  • Hunter Sulte: This season will very likely be the longest stretch of professional minutes he will have had in two years. He’s started both T2 games so far and will very likely be doing so for the foreseeable future.
  • Blake Bodily: As first team homegrown forward, has been named captain for each of both of T2’s games thus far. There is an opening for an impact attacker off the bench for the first team, so perhaps Bodily can ride that wave of confidence and leadership to break through to be a first team contributor.
  • Rookie Diego Gutierrez, who signed with the first team this winter, had to be helped off the field after suffering an apparent foot injury in T2’s opener.

Next up for T2: an away date with Houston Dynamo 2 on April 16. They’ll square off at the same field the first team will play on that day, a few hours after the Timbers and Dynamo finish. Kickoff is set 6 p.m., and the match can be streamed at