PORTLAND — About two feet. At most a yard.
That is how close Ryan Johnson came on Sunday to turning an already raucous Jeld-Wen Field crowd head over heels with delirium.
Alas, his bicycle kick in stoppage time slashed just wide of the post.
The Portland Timbers were that close to a finish for the ages in their 2013 Major League Soccer opener.
As it was, the 3-3 draw with the New York Red Bulls felt like something special after the way it started.
New York scored three goals in the first 28 minutes — two because of misplays by defender Mikael Sivestre — as one of the more offensively gifted teams in MLS was happy to take advantage of Portland’s defensive uncertainty.
In the second half, the Timbers kept the Red Bulls on the defensive. Portland took 13 attempts at goal after halftime to four for New York, turning a 3-1 halftime deficit into a draw.
“It’s disappointing not to, in the end, get the win,” first-year Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “But it’s hard to be greedy when you were two goals down.”
Portland was down early, when confusion between Silvestre and goalkeeper Donovan Rickets allowed Fabian Espindola to steal the ball a few feet from goal in the game’s ninth minute.
Five minutes later, the Timbers got a fabulous first goal from new designated player Diego Valeri. After a nine passes moved the ball from the defensive third to the left wing then to the right, Valeri sliced between defenders while juggling the ballNew York goalkeeper Luis Robles had no play on the slicing right-footed shot.
Still, Portland looked nervous and disjointed for much of the first half. And Espindola took advantage again in the 24th minute when a long ball from former Timber Kosuke Kimura bounced over Silvestre.
“I don’t want to blame the turf, but David Horst told me ‘Mikael, welcome to the turf.’ And I said thank you,” Silvestre said.
Four minutes later, it was 3-1 as defender Jamison Olave took finished a cross on a play that happened after Portland couldn’t cleanly clear away a New York corner kick.
New Timbers team captain Will Johnson said he was surprised with the nervous, scattered way Portland started the game.
“I didn’t expect that, to be honest,” Will Johnson said. “We couldn’t get the ball down and play a little bit. We weren’t as aggressive as we should have been. But once we got that out of our system we were fun to watch.”
Particularly entertaining was the play of Valeri and Darlington Nagbe. Their creativity had New York in scramble mode.
“We were switching the ball a little bit better. Just keeping the ball down,” Will Johnson said. “In the first half, guys weren’t moving and running as much as we needed to. Everybody in the second half wanted the ball and the movement was good.”
Nagbe’s rebound goal — after a diving save denied a Valeri shot — made it 3-2 in the 56th minute to increase the heat on the visitors. Then, shortly after replacing Kalif Alhassan on the right wing, Jose Valencia controlled a bouncing ball deep on the right side of the penalty area and drove a low ball that bounced off of Olave and into the goal.
With just a little bit more such luck, Portland might have won going away.
Defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste had a shot cleared from the line by a New York defender in the 55th minute.
Then, in the final 10 minutes Robles made good saves to deny Nagbe and Ryan Johnson, and Will Johnson’s close-range volley off a Valeri free kick flew high.
Then there was Ryan Johnson’s bicycle try, which was generate when a Silvestre cross was headed forward by Valeri.
“When I connected it felt good. I kind of thought it was in,” Johnson said. “To see that it barely went wide is tough.”
So, it wasn’t a storybook win. But the end result still felt like an accomplishment to the Timbers.
“This team continues to impress me, mostly with their determination and mentality,” Porter said. “They have this refuse-to-lose attitude.”
TIMBERS 3, RED BULLS 3
New York 3 0—3
Portland 1 2—3
First half—1, New York, Espindola 1, 9th minute. 2, Portland, Valeri 1 (Alhassan, Johnson), 14th. 3, New York, Espindola 2 (Kimura), 24th. 4, New York, Olave 1 (Pearce, Bover), 28th.
Second half—5, Portland, Nagbe 1, 56th. 6, Portland, Olave (own goal), 83rd.
Goalies—New York, Luis Robles; Portland, Donovan Ricketts.
Referee—Jair Marrufo. Assistant Referees_Frank Anderson. Adam Garner. 4th Official_Fotis Bazakos.
New York—Luis Robles, Jamison Olave, Heath Pearce, Kosuke Kimura (Eric Alexander, 90th+), Roy Miller, Ruben Bover (Jonny Steele, 66th), Dax McCarty, Juninho, Tim Cahill, Fabian Espindola (Brandon Barklage, 73rd), Thierry Henry.
Portland—Donovan Ricketts, Michael Harrington, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Mikael Silvestre, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Miller (Sal Zizzo, 72nd), Diego Chara (Rodney Wallace, 82nd), Will Johnson, Kalif Alhassan (Jose Valencia, 72nd), Ryan Johnson.