PORTLAND — A memorable debut for a pair of newcomers and the coming-out party for a second-year player turned the season opener into a celebration for the Portland Timbers and their fans.
Designated Player Kris Boyd scored the go-ahead goal, Kalif Alhassan had a goal and assist, and the Timbers opened their second Major League Soccer season on Monday with a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union.
Oh, and rookie defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste put the ball in the goal two times in front of a crowd of 20,438 at Jeld-Wen Field.
“I think the second half was a great 45-minute performance by a group of guys desperate to give the fans what they want tonight,” Timbers coach John Spencer said.
It did not start out that way.
In the 51st minute, Jean-Baptiste’s head deflected a Philadelphia free kick into Portland’s net. That free kick from Gabriel Gomez came from 35 yards out, and was the result of a hard-luck foul awarded against Jack Jewsbury when Freddy Adu tumbled to the turf. Jean-Baptiste said he tripped over somebody and was falling as the ball glanced off his head.
“The own-goal, I don’t think you can blame him for that,” Spencer said. “He came in and played ever so well, especially in this environment.
The Timbers’ first-round draft pick in January, Jean-Baptiste got the start alongside Eric Brunner at center back because the FIFA International Transfer Certificate has not been finalized for Colombian Hanyer Mosquera. The rookie from Connecticut admitted to being surprised by the size of the crowd, but said he settled into the game quickly.
“I’ve just got to play. I can’t worry about who it is that’s coming at me with the ball,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I just have to be humble and stick a tackle in there.”
He did not hang his head about role in Philadelphia’s goal. Three minutes later he scored his first professional goal, heading a free kick from Jack Jewsbury past sprawling Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
“Jack put in a good ball. I just did what I was taught to do and put a good whip on it,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m very excited that 20,000 people saw me score my first MLS goal.”
A few minutes later those 20,000 were delirious when Boyd scored his first MLS goal, delivering a sharp header from seven yards out.
Alhassan, the 21-year-old midfielder in his second MLS season, did some nice work to set up Boyd’s goal. He ran down a long forward bell in the right corner, then turned the defender enough to deliver the left-footed cross that connected with Boyd.
Alhassan was not finished. He capped the evening by scoring from a sharp angle in the 76th minute after a pass from Jewsbury sent him running into the penalty area. Alhassan said he was trying to chip the shot, not cross the ball, on his first career goal.
Boyd credited the crowd for lifting the Timbers when they fell behind.
“The fans stood up and got us through that period,” Boyd said. “That helped us.”
The team rewarded those fans, delivering a night of memorable firsts.
“I don’t think there was a game last year where we came back from a goal down to win a game,” Spencer said, “so it’s a good first for us tonight.”