|Alvas Powell scored his first goal of 2018 with a wildly effective run|
Getting Gio his first win of his MLS coaching career, however, was a nice reward for the home team who started out like they were going to run the Loons out of the stadium, similar to what happened last year. The Timbers raced to a 2 goal lead in the second half only to watch Minnesota pull one back in the 79th minute before Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi tallied 3 goals late to post an impressive 5 to 1 win. For this edition, the Timbers again raced to the 2 goal lead within the first half an hour, and when Minnesota thought they had pulled to within one, the offside flag negated their goal. Minnesota kept pressing until they scored in the 64th minute to ramp up the pressure. Adi nearly replicated his 2 goal performance with tallies in the 74th and 78th to push the lead to 4 to 1, but the offside flag took away the latter goal. Unlike the 2017 edition, Minnesota received an own goal in the 82nd minute to make things interesting, then pressed a beleaguered Timbers defense with pressure until the final whistle. While the Timbers did hold on and get their first win of 2018 at home, the defensive woes and offensive stagnation late nearly cost Portland for the third straight week. Portland had Chicago and Orlando both beaten in their last 2 matches, but the Timbers ended up conceding late in Chicago for a draw, while a 3 goal onslaught by Orlando in the final 10 minutes last week turned an impressive win into a gut wrenching defeat.
|After a slow start, Diego Valeri has been locked in with 3 goals in 3 matches|
Minnesota has been a rather up and down team early in 2018, but much improved over their initial MLS season last year as Coach Adrian Heath has seen a massive influx of talent across the board. While the attack took a hit when Kevin Molino was lost for the 2018 season due to injury after he had scored 2 goals in 2 matches, the Loons still have several players that can be dangerous in the right spots. Darwin Quintero is regarded as a highly accomplished scorer as the team's first ever Designated Player, while Christian Ramirez, Miguel Ibarra and MLS veteran Ethan Finlay give MNUFC options. Ibson and Rasmus Schuller give the spine some teeth, while another MLS veteran, Matt Lampson, has emerged in goal for the club. Considering MNUFC has wins over Chicago and Orlando City this year, Portland couldn't overlook the challenges their visitors presented one bit. This was a different club from the group that was ransacked to start 2017, and Heath has been able to employ a style that gives them confidence and danger. For Savarese, he could be pleased the Timbers were showing some fight to get draws versus FC Dallas and Chicago with some improved play, but the memory of coughing up 3 goals in 10 minutes versus Orlando was lingering over his group.
|Fanendo Adi added his name to the 2018 scoring log with a second half goal.|
Blanco struck the crossbar in the 30th minute off a solid sequence of passing, but the Timbers weren't able to add anything more to the lead. Gleeson, however, denied Ibarra in the 42nd minute when MNUFC defender Marc Burch put a cross into the box and Ibarra headed it towards the left post. Gleeson was able to push the ball clear for a corner, and the Timbers were able to clear out the remaining threats to keep the lead at 2 to 0. The first half statistics showed the Timbers with advantages in several categories, but Minnesota was enjoying more possession and solid passing accuracy although they weren't getting much done in the final third. While Polo's speed was causing plenty of coverage issues for MNUFC, the Timbers were also leaving Mabiala and Tuiloma to cover the backline and threats as Powell was pouring forward nearly at will to aid the offense. While Valentin stayed behind to help out on the press, there were a few moments of miscommunication amongst the defense that could have been a lot worse.
|Congrats to Gio for the 1st MLS win|
Heath replaced Burch with rookie Carter Manley at the break, and the change seemed to have opened up more space for MNUFC. With the rain slightly subsiding, the teams traded possession and runs to start the second half until the 58th minute when Gleeson leaped up to push away a Ramirez chance from close range with a lovely reaction save. MNUFC kept up the pressure and the dam finally broke when Quintero slotted home a shot in the 64th minute off a thrown in when he spun past his mark, and beat Gleeson with a tight angled shot. Quintero and Ramirez had notable chances in the 72nd and 73rd minute until Portland extended their lead. Blanco moved the ball from left to the right post for Valeri, who dropped a pass right to a waiting Paredes. His bouncing shot spun past the MNUFC defense to find Adi's head and he calmly pushed it past a lunging Lampson to restore a 2 goal lead at 3 to 1. Adi thought he had another brace in the 78th minute when he muscled past a defender to slam forth a shot past Lampson, but upon VAR review, it was ruled that Adi was offside on the pass and the goal was waived off, so the score remained 3 to 1 with 12 minutes left.
Savarese had gone to his bench in the 74th to replace Polo with Andres Flores to switch up the Timbers into a more defensive mindset, but the plans started to crumble in the 81st minute when Quintero put a cross into the path of MNUFC substitute Abu Danladi with Gleeson slow to react. Tuiloma was first to the ball, but instead of clearing it away, the ball was bumped past Gleeson into the net for an own goal. The final minutes saw Minnesota threated with various runs about the Timbers defense, and Savarese brought on Marco Farfan for Blanco to further bunker down. It appeared that Quintero's goal had rattled Gleeson a lot, and the pressure that had been building all match toward Mabiala, Valentin, Powell, and Tuiloma was causing a lot of miscommunication and mistakes. Had Minnesota been more purposeful with some of their runs to exploit space better, the results here might have been different - but Portland did just enough to hold off the rally and earn their first 2018 victory. The possession numbers were decidedly in Minnesota's favor in the second half, and when they brought on Manley for Burch, the move was done to try and neutralize Powell's movement forward. In the first half, Alvas was a huge part of the offense, but in the second half, he was forced to stay back more and defend which cut away from the attack.
Portland now had another home match on April 22nd when New York City FC visits with one of the heroes from the 2015 MLS Cup Timbers side, forward Rodney Wallace. For my money, the players of this match really fell upon Blanco, who was very effective at exploiting space, Valeri, who created something out of little with his goal, and Powell, who was the best offensive threat in the first 45 minutes. I liked Adi's work later in the match, as he became more of a threat later in the match once Minnesota was forced to press forward being down by two at the break, but it would have been great to see more of that earlier. With Vytas nearly healthy after suffering a thigh injury, David Guzman rehabbing after injuring a knee on international duty, and Gleeson being a bit jittery in this match, I'm expecting some changes in the starters and game day roster by Savarese, but we will have to wait to see the midweek updates to confirm who is actually available for next Sunday. While it wasn't pretty at points - Gleeson looked lost at points and failed to organize his defense better, and the Timbers were forced to bunker - the resulting win should give them some much needed confidence.