One Incredible Half And A Needed Reset For The Portland Timbers To Start 2024

Ben McCarty | Oregon Sports News

After many months of frustration and controversy, the Portland Timbers desperately needed something to clear the air when they took to the pitch to open their season against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.

A less-than-stellar offseason that featured a controversial coaching hire and the inability to land another designated player carried right up to kickoff when star forward Evander suffered an injury during warmups and was ruled out for the match.

With most of their attacking firepower on the bench, there were plenty of reasons the Timbers could have turned in the sort of slow-starting, lackluster performance that has become their calling card over the last few seasons. However, new coach Phil Neville turned his team loose in a relentless attack right out of the gate. Eryk Williamson sent Providence Park into a rapturous crescendo just nine minutes into the game. Then Antony took over. The 22-year-old Brazilian international dominated the first half of the match. He put the Timbers up two goals just five minutes later with a marvelous header off a pass from Christian Paredes. Antony’s relentless motor led to a third goal when he froze a defender with his footwork and buried a shot in the top-right post. While he didn’t get the first hat-trick in Timbers MLS history, he did have a hand in a fourth goal just before halftime when he bounced a cross off a Rapids defender and into the net just before halftime and the Timbers cruised from there for the 4-1 win.

After so much malaise over the past year, the Timbers could not have asked for a better start. Yes, it came against a Colorado squad that was not exactly strong opposition, but the Timbers are not exactly behemoths in the MLS hierarchy themselves right now. They rose to the moment and met it head-on. Now the question is, can they keep up the momentum, and what do they need to do to stay on the right track?

Get collected on defense

The Timbers only allowed a single goal off a set piece in the second half when they took a four-goal lead into the half. However, a large part of that was not due to the Timbers’ defensive prowess but to the Rapids’ total inability to finish. The Rapids had numerous chances where the Timbers’ backline broke down, only having shots go wide or high or having crosses simply fly through the entire attacking formation and go out of bounds. James Pantemis did a solid job of being fearless between the pipes in his Timbers debut, but the Timbers defenders in front of him often appeared to be disorganized and late to their assignments. Whether that was due to miscommunication, mismatches, or just unfamiliarity wasn’t apparent, but the Timbers need to sort it out before they face stiffer competition.

For the love of all that is holy, get a DP signing done

Why the Timbers didn’t complete a designated player signing in the offseason is a mystery. At this point, any player being brought in is going to have a rough adjustment period. The Timbers don’t exactly attract Messi caliber Designated Players, typically preferring younger players with high ceilings and low floors, and that means any incoming player will take time to integrate. The Timbers obviously need help in the back line, and while the offense got the job done against the rapids, they could use some more help up front to take pressure off Evander, especially with Marvin Loria likely out for the season. While Antony and Williamson played brilliantly against Colorado, they need help keeping up that pace.

Keep up the fast starts while finishing strong

A ninth-minute goal by their own team is not something Portland Timbers fans have come to expect from their team much recently. A pair of goals in the opening 15 minutes was undoubtedly surprising. According to the Timbers, it was just the second time the team has scored four goals in the first half and the first since 2016. A game that was essentially out of reach at halftime was certainly a rarity. What was concerning was the team coming out of halftime flat and not generating much offensive pressure until late in the game when they were able to close out the affair. However, if not for Colorado’s previously noted lack of finish, the Rapids may have been able to claw back and make the game competitive. On the offensive end, Antony was particularly impressive. He had a motor that was incredibly impressive and was constantly working to either set up his teammates or get involved in the attack. If he can keep it up, he’ll play an integral role in the Timbers attack this season.

If the Timbers can keep the good times rolling from their season-opening win, learn lessons from their mistakes in the opener, and build on their successes, there may be plenty of reason to party in Portland as the season progresses.