On an auspicious night for the club, Minnesota United traveled to Providence Park to face the Portland Timbers in its inaugural MLS match. Portland was looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 where they missed the playoffs after winning the MLS Cup in 2015 – assembling one of the best attacking cores in the league, and reuniting childhood friends Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco. Minnesota United was looking to buck the trend of expansion team inaugural match losses, where the newcomers had gone 3-10 coming into the game. Portland came out on top in the end, winning 5-1 after a flurry of late goals.
Portland bared its fangs early, with Valeri firing a shot into the side of the net in the third minute, and that was just the beginning. For a time, the backline of MNUFC stood up well to the Timbers’ hard charge, with Francisco Calvo doing well to break up Portland’s attack at the edge of the box in the ninth minute. But just a few minutes after winning their first corner kick, Portland got their break.
Blanco chased the ball deep into the right corner, tussling with two Minnesota defenders before going down and winning a free kick in a dangerous spot. His kick found Vytautas Andriuskevicius on the near post who flicked it overhead toward Lawrence Olum. Olum tapped it over John Alvbage and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
MNUFC had a scare at the 30-minute mark when they nearly lost possession directly in front of the goal. Some quick scrambling back and cool heads in front of the net kept the deficit at one goal, but neither team could string anything together for the last 15 minutes of the half. At the break, possession was split 50-50 between the two squads despite Portland’s lead.
“When I look at our long periods of possession, that gives me a little bit of optimism as well, that we can actually keep the ball with the players we’ve got on the team,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath.
The Timbers got right to work out of the break. After pushing to the edge of the box, Fenando Adi pulled the ball back out to circle it back to the right corner. In the process, he drew Minnesota’s backline out, wrong-footing them as Blanco’s cross found Valeri for a beautiful header past a diving Alvbage and into the left side of the net.
This led to more give and take between the two teams over the first 20 minutes of the second half. Each strung together possession and generated looks, although none better than Blanco’s wormburner that missed just wide right in the 60th minute.
Things got more interesting quickly at the 69-minute mark when Christian Ramirez came on for the Loons. The team shifted from the 4-3-3 they began in to a 4-2-3-1 with Ramirez out front and Venegas taking on a withdrawn role. Immediately, Minnesota United began pouring on more offense and taking more risks, but it paid off.
In the 79th minute, Venegas found Ramirez just inside the edge of the box. He turned on Olum and fired it into the right side of the goal for Minnesota United’s first MLS goal.
“I thought it was a really good ball from Johan Venegas and [Ramirez] does what he does well,” said Heath. “He’s good in the box and he took his ball well. We’ll see where that takes us next.”
Unfortunately for Minnesota, this wasn’t a bellwether of a sudden comeback. Instead, Portland began to put it all together.
“Late in the game, when you’re chasing the game, obviously your shape’s all over the place,” said Heath. “People are trying to get in the box to get an equalizer and then suddenly it becomes 3-1. Their goals were at really crucial times, every time we felt we were just creeping back into the game then, we had another one against us.”
Adi outmuscled Vadim Demidov in the box and Demidov took him down, earning the Timbers a penalty kick that Valeri calmly put in to complete his brace just two minutes after Ramirez’s goal for a 3-1 lead. That took the wind out of Minnesota’s sails and as the energy flagged, the goals started pouring in. Adi beat several defenders twice in stoppage time for his own brace and Portland ended up scoring the most goals they’ve ever notched at home in MLS play in a 5-1 win.
“It’s been a strange evening with the way the game ended,” said Heath. “I thought we started a little apprehensive but we grew into the game in the first half. Second half, I thought we started to impose ourselves a little bit. Somebody just said we had the most possession this evening, which surprised me, but I thought we were in the game. We played against a really good team, but at the 82nd minute, it’s still 2-1 and we’re looking more likely at that stage. To finish the game with 5 goals against is a little bit of a poor reflection of the evening.”
Despite the lopsided result, Minnesota United showed flashes of good interplay and put together some solid strings of possession. They’ll look to build on those positives as they prepare for their inaugural home opener against the league’s other expansion side, Atlanta United, on Sunday, March 12 at 4:00 pm CT.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK John Alvbage; D Justin Davis, Francisco Calvo, Vadim Demidov, Jermaine Taylor; M Mohammed Saeid, Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller (Christian Ramirez 69’), Bashkim Kadrii (Miguel Ibarra 88’), Kevin Molino; F Johan Venegas
MIN Unused Subs: GK Patrick McLain; D Brent Kallman, Kevin Venegas; M Ibson, Collin Martin
Portland Timbers Starting XI: GK Jake Gleeson; D Vytautas Andriuskevicius, Albas Powell, Lawrence Olum, Liam Ridgewell; M Diego Chara, David Guzman, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri (Darron Mattocks 86’), Sebastian Blanco (Darion Asprilla 76’); F Fanendo Adi
POR Unused Subs: GK Jeff Attinella; D Chance Myers; M Marco Farfan; F Amobi Okugo, Jack Barmby
16’ – Olum (Andriuskevicius) – POR
47’ – Valeri (Blanco) – POR
79’ – Ramirez (J. Venegas) – MIN
82’ – Valeri (PK) – POR
90+’ – Adi (Nagbe) – POR
90+’ – Adi (Andriuskevicius) – POR
25’ – Chara (YC) – POR
81’ – J. Venegas (YC) – MIN