For openers, Timbers deliver spills, then thrills

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter



PORTLAND — The coach came forcefully to the defense of his defense.

Asked during his postgame press conference on Sunday if the Portland Timbers defenders are good enough to win in Major League Soccer, Caleb Porter’s response was almost defiant:

“Yes,” Porter said sharply. “Yes.”

Porter was not excusing the errors that handed the New York Red Bulls a quick 3-1 lead. He said such glaring errors will not be the norm.

Mikael Silvestre made two of them. The 35-year-old defender said miscommunication led to his awkward pass back to goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Ricketts reached down for the ball, but it bounced right to Red Bulls’ forward Fabian Espindola.

Espindola also could thank Silvertre for his second goal, though it took a well-placed finish to beat Ricketts after the ball bounced past Silvestre to send the New York forward in alone on goal.

“Mikael made a couple of mistakes. He knows it. Mistakes he’s rarely made,” Porter said. “But some of that might have to do with the fact that he two days ago was in Paris.”

Silvestre trained with Portland while the team was in Tucson. But the Frenchman had only two training sessions on Jeld-Wen Field before Sunday’s game. Playing on an unfamiliar turf and communicating with new teammates under the din of Timbers Army noise proved challenging, even for a veteran of Europe’s top competitions.

“Clearly the first half I wasn’t in the game and had a lot on my mind,” Silvestre said, later adding, “I think I was fit enough to play, but mentally I was maybe sitting doing my visa in Paris. I don’t know.”

Porter is confident Silvestre will be fine.

“He’s still getting his legs underneath him. But he was tremendous in the second half.” the coach said.

While Silvestre struggled early, Diego Valeri simply impressed.

The Argentine attacking midfielder scored a marvelous goal in the first half and was a big part of Portland’s second-half domination. His bullet from 20 yards created the rebound that Darlington Nagbe converted for Portland’s second goal, his lunging header directed the ball for Ryan Johnson’s bicycle shot that just missed.

After halftime, it appeared Valeri pushed more forward up the field as one of four attackers the coach wanted going at New York’s defense.

Porter said Valeri is “capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat at any given moment.”

After the game, the Argentine who has been in Portland for only two months, smiled and graciously did his best to answer media questions.

“I enjoyed the match,” he said. “Congratulations to the Timbers Army because they are great. Maybe we don’t start good, but I think that we showed that this is going to be a great team.”

The next eight months will determine that. But on Sunday, Timbers fans had genuine reasons to be excited.

Among them:

The fantastic second half from Darlington Nagbe. The toughness of a Timbers team still in early development. A 21-10 shot advantage (13-4 in the second half). Passing accuracy of 84 percent on 549 passes and possession 63 percent of the time.

Sure, New York sat deeper in the second half, trying to protect a two-goal lead. But for an opening act, this wasn’t half bad.

“This isn’t going to be perfect on Day One,” team captain Will Johnson said. “Obviously, we would have liked to have made less mistakes and won. This is a work in progress. This has been a complete overhaul. New coach. New system. A lot of new everything.”