March 13th, 2012 | by MATTHEW KORFHAGE News | Posted In: Sports

Portland Timbers Bust the Union 3-1 in 2012 Home Opener

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Portland likes to live up to its sodden reputation on the season home openers, apparently. As in last year's victory over the Chicago Fire, Portland's 3-1 defeat of Philadelphia Union was rain-slicked and windblown.

Behind a redemptive goal by Andrew Jean-Baptiste and scores by Kris Boyd and Kalif Alhassan, the Timbers pushed the Union around all night. Philadelphia’s early lead after a dull and scoreless first half was no real indication of what was happening on the field. The Timbers made 17 attempts on goal to the Union's five, with eight of these on target, and indeed outplayed the Union according to every statistic furnished by the league.

The Union's play was disjointed throughout and increasingly physical, leading to 14 fouls even amid some fairly loose officiating. In particular, the Union used the leeway granted by the officials to exploit size mismatches on Portland midfielder Diego Chara and forward Jorge Perlaza.

By the end of the game, nonetheless, Portland was moving seemingly at will into the Union's backfield--racking up seven corners and twenty-four open field crosses before the match was over—and faced little threat from the Union offense. The last shot that Philadelphia made on goal was nine minutes into the second half, and their lone goal was scored off a controversial free kick and a bounce off of rookie Portland defender Jean-Baptiste at the back post. "I either got tripped or fell and it whipped off my head," Jean-Baptiste said after the game.

But Jean-Baptiste struck back, scoring at the other end of the field only three minutes later off an assist by team captain Jack Jewsbury. A header from forward Boyd, and a lobbed cross into the net from midfielder Alhassan, rounded out the Timbers' scoring.

Some stories to watch and lessons to draw after the Timbers' first match of the season:

Kris Boyd is so far precisely the player we expected him to be: Boyd was not a force in the middle of the field. He had issues more than once with missed communication or muffed possessions, and did not always seem to have gelled completely with the Timbers' offense. But he was deadly when placed close to the net. Of his four shot attempts, three were on target, and his goal, a whippet-quick header off a well-placed cross from Alhassan, left Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath precisely no chance to come up with a save.

Boyd also proved himself entirely unafraid to challenge goalkeepers for a ball, a quality that the 2011 MLS Fair Play Award winners have often lacked in the past. If the rest of the Timbers—particularly Alhassan and Jewsbury—can continue to provide the service into the box shown during this game, Boyd should be an invaluable asset to the team and a prolific scorer—and recipient of Timber Joey’s log slices.

"I think he's going to end up building a house with the logs that he will get," Coach John Spencer said after the game.

Kalif Alhassan is already one of the Timbers' biggest threats this season: The midfield winger, scoreless last year during the regular season, has found the net two games in a row (including his preseason goal against the Swedish AIK team) using virtually the same shot from opposite sides: a high cross from deep outside that twists just inside the back post. His quick footwork has also been winning him one-on-one duels with terrific regularity even when backed against the sideline.

During the game against Philadelphia he was something of a wild-card presence, a creative playmaker—as evidenced especially during a post-up back-and-forth with defender Lovel Palmer during the first half that led to a corner kick.

Defender Jean-Baptiste is a rookie to watch: Amid paperwork issues by Colombian acquisition Hanyer Mosquera, and a lingering foot injury to Futty Danso, rookie Jean-Baptiste was an unexpected starter but showed impressive versatility during the Timbers' opener, bouncing a header into the goal off the rain-slicked hands of Union keeper MacMath, coming up with a few key stops and providing excellent midfield support.

When considered with Eric Brunner's inspired performance against the Union in the backfield, and Chara and Jewsbury's likewise solid defensive support up the middle, Portland's center defense is looking to have a great deal of depth. We’ll see if this holds up against teams who are able to put together a more coordinated offense than Philadelphia did, but it looks as if Spencer will have a lot of options once Mosquera and Danso are cleared to play.

And finally, a question mark: Will the Timbers show the same performance on the road? The Timbers have been criticized heavily for their away record and road discipline, and their next two games are away, at FC Dallas and New England.
 
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