RED BULLS SURVIVE

Portland Timbers defender Mikael Silvestre, right, and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill battle for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, March 3, 2013.
AP Photo/Don Ryan

Major League soccer completed the first weekend of games in its 18th season and it’s a good bet that the person most talked about is not a player. How about the name Timbers Joey! He cuts slabs of timber for each Portland Timbers player who scores in a home game. Timbers Joey was hard at work last Sunday night cutting three heavy slabs. His fame may be on the rise because of a cast of Timbers players who young, exciting and skillful, and with debutant coach Caleb Porter, who looks as young as his players, they seem on their way to carving an exciting, goal-filled season.

In the Timbers’ season-opening game in front of its 26th sellout crowd of over 35,000 fans at Jeld Wen Stadium, the home team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the New York Red Bulls, 3-3, in one of the most exciting opening games in the 18-year history of MLS.

I thought that I would be raving about the New York Red Bulls, the more experienced squad, which includes former French international Thierry Henry and Australian international Tim Cahill, both of whom were successful in the English Premier League – Henry with Arsenal and Cahill with Everton. The Red Bulls also lined up experienced and proven MLS performers in forward Fabian Espindola and defender Jamison Olave, but it was a Timbers team of mainly U.S. college graduates that stole the show, had the fans on the edge of their seats and kept Timbers Joey busy and weary.

Mike Petke was the other American coach in the game making his MLS debut Sunday night and leading a predominantly new team, like Porter. As was expected, the more experienced Red Bulls got off to a good start with Espindola and Olave, both brought in from Real Salt Lake in the off-season, stealing the show. Espindola, who was unlucky to be substituted out in the second half, put New York ahead in the eight minute when newly acquired defender Mikael Silvestre, another former Arsenal player, and his goalkeeper Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts miss-communicated on a play and spilled the ball to Espindola. The Timbers equalized four minutes later when MLS newcomer Diego Valeri was on the end of a combination play and waltz through New York’s defense to tied the game at 1-1.

New York maintained its momentum and Espindola put the visitors ahead, 2-1, in the 23rd minute from another Silvestre mistake when he misjudged the bounce of the ball; Olave made the score 3-1 in the 28th for a New York halftime lead when he slid into a cross from defender Heath Pierce and nudged the ball into the net after Portland failed to properly clear the ball from its area after a corner kick.

Porter managed to get his Timbers going from the outset in the second half, and it was all Portland as Darlington Nagbe, the No. one MLS draft pick in 2011, who played for Porter at the University of Akron, made it 3-2 in the 56th minute; forward Adolpho Valencia’s shot deflected off Olave and into the net to tie the score with seven minutes to play. New York barely survived the Portland onslaught.

Despite the 3-3 final score, there was a winner – U.S. soccer. The game featured two American coaches making their MLS debuts and who managed their teams effectively, which bodes well for the game here. In fact, in the 18 years of MLS, only one foreign coach has ever won the MLS Cup. Another plus for the local game was the strong performances of the Portland players who honed their skills at U.S. colleges – among them Nagbe and defenders Jean Baptise and Mike Harrington – and outplayed New York’s international stars. Timbers Joey with his heavy log is a character and stadium favorite who help the fans indentify with the team and adds entertainment.

First hat trick

Mike Magee scored the first hat trick of the MLS season when he led hosts and two-time defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy to a 4-0 bashing of the Chicago Fire on Sunday night. As the Galaxy dominated from start to finish, Magee (38th, 68th and 74th) scored his first hat trick of his MLS career at the Home Depot Center; Robbie Keane scored the fourth goal. Also on Sunday, Real Salt Lake downed San Jose Earthquakes, 2-0.

In games on Saturday, MLS Cup losing finalist last season, Houston Dynamo, knocked off visiting DC United, 2-0, behind a strong effort of man-of-the-match Ricardo Clarke. Clarke forced DC United defender James Riley into an own goal when he jumped with Riley for a header during a Brad Davis corner kick and off-balanced the defender. Clark later received a pas just inside the right side of the 18 yard box and riffed a shot into the roof of the net for the final score. Eastern Conference champion sporting Kansas City beat Philadelphia Union, 3-1; Vancouver Whitecaps topped Toronto FC, 1-0; Dallas got past Colorado 1-0; Montréal Impact surprised host Seattle Sounders, 1-0; and Columbus Crew knocked off Chivas USA, 3-0.

Mexico wins U-20s

Host Mexico defeated the USA, 3-1, in extra time to win the CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship in Pueblo last Sunday. Jesus Corona, Julio Gomez and Jorge Espericueta scored for Mexico and Benji Joya tallied for the USA. Both teams, along with El Salvador and Cuba qualified for the FIFA Youth World Cup in Turkey in June.

New York Red Bulls forward Fabian Espindola, bottom, slides in to steal the ball from Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, March 3, 2013.
AP Photo/Don Ryan

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