3 For Thursday: Expansion home openers
On Thursday night, when the whistle is blown and the ball finally starts rolling in Portland’s newly renovated, recently renamed JELD-WEN Field, the Timbers will finally make their long-awaited introduction of their house to Major League Soccer.
Winning an opener is important, but every expansion team knows it’s vital not just to win, but to put forth a memorable performance in their first-ever home game. And when the Chicago Fire go to Rose City, the Timbers will try for to put their name among the list of a best-ever home openers for an MLS expansion team.
Here are three of our favorites in MLS history:
1) Sounders silence the Red Bulls
First Kick 2009. The voice of 32,523 ardent supporters filled the stands of Qwest Field as the Sounders opened their inaugural season at home against what then New York head coach Carlos Osorio called “a revamped” Red Bulls, led by Designated Player Juan Pablo Angel.
But it was a lesser-known Colombian by the name of Fredy Montero who stole the show.
On loan from Deportivo Cali, the forward scored his and the Sounders’ first MLS goal 11 minutes in, driving a low roller from just inside the box across to the left corner. Thirteen minutes later, Montero assisted in Seattle’s second goal. Finally, he iced the match himself in the 75th, breaking away from the Red Bulls defense to slot past the 'keeper.
“You couldn’t have written it any better,” Seattle ‘keeper Kasey Keller said of the Rave Green’s debut after the match.
First MLS game, first MLS win. The Sounders went on to become the second expansion club to win the US Open Cup that year, as well as the second expansion side to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The first one? The Chicago Fire.
2) Fire burn visiting Mutiny
The Chicago Fire came marching out of the Soldier Field dressing room to the tune of 36,444 strong – the biggest crowd ever at an expansion team’s home opener – who were there to cheer the new MLS team against the visiting Tampa Bay Mutiny.
The Mutiny had just become the Miami Fusion’s first MLS victim the week before and didn’t want to become Chicago’s first-ever victory at home. But no one gave Frank Klopas that memo.
In the 43rd minute, Chicago’s Zak Ibsen dribbled in from the flank, got past one defender then passed the ball over to Klopas, who, in one swift motion, sidestepped around a defender and powered a shot into the goal. Then, two minutes from time, Klopas finished off his double by slotting in a left-footer from 10 yards off a pass from Roman Kosecki.
“That’s a game I’ll never forget,” Klopas recently told the Fire’s website.
Powered by that win, Chicago became the only expansion side thus far to win MLS Cup in their first year. A week later, they did the same in the US Open Cup.
3) Whitecaps rise above Reds
What’s sweeter than making history by winning your inaugural game in MLS? Easy: winning your first game in MLS at home against a rival in impressive fashion. That’s what Vancouver did when they kicked off the first installment of the Canadian derby in MLS against Toronto last month.
A sea of 22,593 blue-and-white-clad fans filling the Empire Field stands didn’t have to wait very long to explode into cheers. Fifteen minutes into the match, Whitecaps Designated Player Eric Hassli measured a bouncing ball and struck a half-volley into the near post.
Dwayne De Rosario equalized for TFC five minutes later, but it was for naught. Soon after, Terry Dunfield put the ‘Caps back up and, in the 64th minute, Atiba Harris found the net for a 3-1 lead.
Then Hassli capped it off for Vancouver in the 72nd minute. Wes Knight beat the offside trap and sped right to the TFC goal, only to pass across to a streaking Hassli, who completed his brace with an easy tap in.
Maicon Santos added another for TFC two minutes later, but the match had been decided. Vancouver had made a splash entrance in MLS.