Sunday night, there was a fireworks show at Jeld-Wen Field.
For 83 minutes, the Portland Timbers appeared to be on the wrong side of the pulse-pounding display. But after being down 3-1 in the first half, Portland showed the courage, heart and grit to come back and earn a 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls.
With a new roster, a new system and a new coach in Caleb Porter, the Timbers came into their MLS opener hoping to show the announced sellout crowd of 20,674 just how improved the club was from its dismal 2012 season.
The Timbers showed that they are very improved on offense. Portland was exciting throughout the match, as Diego Valeri scored in the first half and Darlington Nagbe scored in the second half. The Timbers then scored the equalizer in the 83rd minute on an own goal.
Portlands defense was borderline comical at times, though, allowing the Red Bulls (0-0-1) three first-half goals and necessitating the late heroics.
This team continues to impress me, Porter said. Mostly with their determination. They have this refuse-to-lose attitude.
In the ninth minute, New York striker Fabian Espindola dribbled the ball through traffic into the 18-yard box. Surrounded by three Timbers defenders, Espindola finally lost control of the ball. Timbers defender Mikael Silvestre, playing his first regular-season match in a Portland uniform, tried to kick the ball to goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
The ball reached Ricketts five yards from goal. The 35-year-old Jamaican tried to bend down to scoop it up with his hands rather than clear it with his boot. Ricketts spilled the ball into the 6-yard box. Even without the ball, Espindola had continued his run. He collected the rebound off Ricketts and slid a shot into an empty net.
Mikael made a couple of mistakes, Porter said. He knows it. Some of it might have to do with the fact that two days ago he was in Paris. He was still getting his legs underneath him.
Five minutes later, in the 14th minute, the Timbers responded as Valeri turned from midfielder to magician.
Timbers striker Kalif Alhassan dribbled into the 18-yard box and centered a pass to Valeri. When he received the ball, Valeri had three Red Bulls defenders surrounding him. Valeri took a touch, bounced the ball up, played it back to the ground off his chest, then fired a left-footed shot to the bottom right corner. New York goalkeeper Luis Robles had no chance to defend the shot, and the Timbers had knotted the match 1-1.
We made a good situation, Valeri said. And Im happy that I made my first goal.
In the 24th minute, Silvestre again was a liability on the back line. The 35-year-old Frenchman tried to clear a long New York pass down the pitch. Silvestre leaped up and missed the ball with his boot. Espindola ran down the ball and collected it 30 yards from goal.
Silvestre gave chase, but Espindola got into the box all alone, with nothing between him and the back of the net besides Ricketts. From 14 yards, Espindola fired a shot that left Ricketts flatfooted. The ball found the bottom right corner, and New York had a 2-1 lead.
Two of those goals we basically gave them, Porter said. If you give up goals, youd rather it be something they do. But we basically handed it to them on a platter.
The Red Bulls continued to punish the Timbers in the 28th minute. After a New York corner kick, Red Bulls defender Heath Pearce had the ball on the left side of the 18-yard box. Pearce sent a cross toward goal. Ricketts came out to try to defend the ball, but his angle was too soft. The ball went past Ricketts and to the waiting feet of Jamison Olave. The Red Bulls defender shot from 2 yards and slipped the ball inside the near post, giving New York a 3-1 lead.
The Timbers never stopped applying pressure, however. Portland moved the ball into the Red Bulls defensive third time and again, creating numerous dangerous opportunities off corner kicks, free kicks and well- played crosses.
Still, the Timbers went into halftime in a deep hole.
Portland continued attacking the New York goal in the second half, throwing numbers forward, and the home team was a constant threat to score.
The Timbers were rewarded in the 56th minute. From 15 yards, Valeri fired a shot. Robles punched the ball, but Nagbe anticipated that move perfectly. Nagbe collected the rebound, fired a shot inside the right post, and the Timbers were down only 3-2.
I just took a chance and ran in there to follow (the shot) up, Nagbe said. The goalie coughed it up. I almost missed it, but luckily it went in.
In the 83rd minute, Portland's Jose Adolfo Valencia collected a rebound on the left side of the 18-yard box, just in front of the New York back line. Without many options, Valencia tried to shoot. He sent a soft rolling ball toward the goal. The ball bounced off the back leg of Olave. Robles dove, but he was just unable to stop the ball from going into the back of the net.
The Timbers created several more chances before the end of the match, but had to settle for the draw.
It was disappointing in the end not to get the win, Porter said. But its hard to be greedy when youre down 3-1. Coming back from two goals down, its not easy. Well take it.
Next Saturday, the Timbers will host the Montreal Impact at 7:30 p.m. The week after, on March 16, Portland will travel to Seattle for a derby match against the Sounders, one of Portlands Cascadia Cup rivals. Porter gave assurances that the Timbers will not turn their sights on the Sounders too quickly.
Its ludicrous to think that we would look past anyone, he said. Im looking forward to Montreal, and I know that this group has three points in mind against them.