Momentum is a fickle mistress, and after 51 minutes of well-played soccer from the Philadelphia Union, she leaped out from under them and delivered a 3-1 victory into the open arms of the Portland Timbers Monday night.
Immediately after Philadelphia’s Gabriel Gómez sliced in a free kick to give the visiting Union a lead early in the second stanza, Portland embarked on an unrelenting half-hour of attack, scoring three successive goals.
“It was magnificent from start to finish,” said forward Kris Boyd of the atmosphere in his first match as a Timber. “Even when we went a goal down, they were still behind us. They were still singing. They helped to get us back on level terms, and then we went on to win the game.”
All it took was one game and one game-winning goal for Boyd, Portland’s new Designated Player and the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, to establish himself as a fan favorite in the Rose City.
Any discussion of atmosphere, momentum and faithful fans has to revolve around the Timbers Army, breathing down Zac MacMath’s neck from their section directly behind him in the second half. When attacking towards its fans, Portland showed exactly why it suffered only one defeat at home in 2011.
“We opened it up with a goal but then just gave the momentum right back,” said Union defender Danny Califf. “We did a great job of keeping the crowd out until they scored the goal, but once they scored the goal they came right back into it.”
Through the pouring rain at JELD-WEN Field, Philadelphia found itself unable to muster anything resembling a consistent attack, and lost its ability to defend after doing yeoman’s work in ITS own zone in the first half. Rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Boyd pushed headers past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath in the 54th and 66th minutes, respectively, before winger Kalif Alhassan chipped from a poor angle to finish off the scoring.
MacMath, who staked a claim to the first-choice keeper position after performing admirably as a reserve last season, struggled all night to grip the rain-slicked ball – Jean-Baptiste’s goal, off of a Jack Jewsbury free kick, slipped out of his hands and under his diving body before finding a home in the back of the net.
“The first [goal] was a good header that came quick and I didn’t get a chance to react to it,” said the 20-year-old. “The third one I was just unlucky that he got it over me.”
Union manager Peter Nowak understands that there will be a steep learning curve if his squad, decimated by winter roster turnover, is to return to the postseason this fall. Philadelphia started all four of its offseason international signings, including Gómez, but the re-tooled left side of the field was tired out and repeatedly torched by Portland’s Lovel Palmer, Jorge Perlaza and Alhassan.
“We look to work on our mistakes in the next four days before our next game,” Nowak said. “There is still 36 weeks in front of us, and players will take time and get to know one another better.”
Philadelphia welcomes the Colorado Rapids to PPL Park for their home opener on Sunday, a match in which the team’s stability will be handicapped even further. Prior to kickoff in Portland, it was announced that Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo, have been selected for the United States U-23 national team camp, and will miss up to three matches while trying out for an Olympic spot.
Portland hits the road this week, facing an FC Dallas team on Saturday that will be missing star forward Brek Shea for those same Olympic trials.