PORTLAND, Ore. – It didn’t take long before the Portland Timbers' new additions paid dividends. But the story of their Monday night goes deeper than just some fresh faces.
Goals by newly acquired Designated Player Kris Boyd and rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste made the headlines. But peel back the layers, and Portland’s First Kick win, featuring three second-half goals to overcome a 1-0 deficit, pointed to several positive signs of improvement.
“I think we came out in the second half and put on a better performance, even though we fell a goal behind,” Boyd said. “We showed determination to come back from that.”
The Timbers' raucous sell-out crowd at JELD-WEN Field expected the world from Boyd, and the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leading scorer didn’t disappoint.
But it was the way Portland dominated throughout, including in areas where they struggled last year, that gave the fans something to hang their hats on.
The Timbers' possession percentage of 56.5 percent was far improved from the previous two times Portland played Philadelphia last year, when they registered 47.8 percent in a 1-0 victory and 41 percent in a scoreless tie.
“I think we played a little better in the second half,” head coach John Spencer said. “I thought first half we overplayed at times and never used the energy we had in the stadium to our advantage, like we did in the second half. I asked [the team] in the locker room at halftime if they could go play Timbers football and play with energy and passion. And I think we did that. To go a goal behind, I think was against the run of play a little bit. But tremendous response, tremendous response.”
Spencer cited the play of midfielder Kalif Alhassan as a key in the win, as the winger iced it with his first goal in a Timbers uniform and also recorded an assist on Boyd’s goal. Alhassan was particularly good in holding possession and creating a number of scoring chances and was duly rewarded for his display by the North American Soccer Reporters, who named him the MLS player of the week on Tuesday.
“I would say it’s about hard work,” Alhassan said. “We worked hard all preseason. We were ready for this game.”
Away test to come
After notching a win on opening night, the Timbers now face what was their Achilles heel for most of last season: playing on the road.
Portland, who face a Saturday evening game at FC Dallas, was 2-9-6 away from JELD-WEN Field last year.
“We’ve got to play well on the road,” Spencer said. “I think we’re a little bit more mature this year, hopefully, and I’d like to see us go down to Dallas and put on a similar type of performance.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.