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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Diego Valeri's goal and play helped ignite the Portland Timbers' attack in a 3-3 draw Sunday with New York.The result — a tie — was like a smooch with you know who. But the route there was beyond encouraging.

A 3-3 draw with the New York Red Bulls isn’t quite what the Timbers had in mind for their Major League Soccer opener Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field.

Wasn’t so bad, though, considering the Red Bulls were leading 3-1 less than 29 minutes into the game.

Over the next 60-plus minutes, the Timbers outshot their more heralded opponent 18-4 — the final spread was 21-10 — to salvage a point in the standings along with plenty of respect from the sellout throng of 20,674 and a national ESPN2 audience.

“It was us dominating the game,” said Portland coach Caleb Porter, stealing the words right from my mouth.

Porter, 39, was not only coaching his first game for the Timbers. He was coaching his first professional game after a storied career at Akron, where he led the Zips to a 123-18-17 record in and an NCAA championship in 2010.

“It didn’t feel like his first game, because he’s been doing it for so many years,” said midfielder Will Johnson, one of 13 newcomers on an overturned Portland roster this season.

Of the Timbers’ 11 starters, only five are back from the team that went 8-16-1 in 2012 and pretty much bored all those who don’t consider themselves members of the Timbers Army.

The high-profile Red Bulls,16-9-9 a year ago, own legendary striker Thierry Henry, the smoothest player on the pitch, though he doesn’t exactly qualify as Charlie Hustle in the long moments when the ball isn’t on his foot.

It was the Timbers, though, who owned the action after the early going.

“We looked a little bit nervy in the first part of the game,” Porter said. “It was the first 15, 20 minutes or so where it was a bit shaky and tentative. Two of the goals we basically gave (the Red Bulls). It wasn’t anything they did to earn them. We handed them two goals on a platter.”

At halftime, Porter conjured his best Knute Rockne — or perhaps it was Vic Crowe — exhorted his troops, made a couple of tactical adjustments and watched as his lads put the Red Bulls on their heels.

Darlington Nagbe was active after intermission, scoring a rebound goal off a Diego Valeri shot, then launching a ball that was saved but resulted in an own goal that tied the count at 3-3 with seven minutes left.

“The light bulb went on,” Porter said. “Sometimes with Darlington, you got to give him a kick in the ass in a positive way — pump him up. I had a few words with him, and he was a handful the second half.”

Valeri, the 26-year-old midfielder from Argentina acquired on loan during the offseason, was a handful throughout. He scored Portland’s first goal, set up another and made a behind-the-back pass for a scoring chance that was SportsCenter-worthy. Perhaps he’ll be the addition the Timbers thought the already forgotten Kris Boyd would be last season.

“He’s a special player,” Johnson said of Valeri. “He just does things that other players can’t do, sees things that other players don’t see. We’re fortunate to have a guy like on our team. The fans are fortunate to be able to watch a player of his quality. And it’s even more fun to play with him, I promise.”

Another Johnson — Ryan — nearly converted the game-winner off a Valeri feed in the 89th minute. Johnson’s left-footed rope was saved by a diving Luis Robles, the New York goalkeeper.

“It was a great ball,” Ryan Johnson said. “Valeri is a pleasure to play with. All I have to do is time my runs, make sure I’m onside. He’s going to find me. I made eye contact with him, I went, the ball was there and the keeper made a good save.”

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

Ryan Johnson had another opportunity to win in during the extra minutes near game’s end, narrowly missing a bicycle kick.

“When I connected, it felt good,” he said. “I kind of thought it was in. It barely went wide.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - The first half was a disappointment, with coach Caleb Porter and his team leaving the field trailing 3-1.Porter has impressed his players, some who are only a few years his junior.

“He’s very knowledgeable about the game,” said Will Johnson, the team captain. “A great motivator. Honest guy. No gray areas in what he wants us to do. He prepares this team very well. Seems like a guy who has coached for a long time. A perfectionist, a professional and a lot of fun to play for.”

Porter loved his players’ resolve.

“It doesn’t happen very often, to come back after being two goals down,” he said. “But this group continues to show they have mental toughness in responding to adversity.”

The fans ate it up. And by the way — 5-Hour Energy needs to work an endorsement deal with members of the Timbers Army, who don’t require a public-address announcer imploring them to cheer for the home team. They do it on their own.

“The atmosphere was electric,” said Will Johnson, who played for Real Salt Lake the past two seasons. “I expected nothing less. The fans here are known in North America as the best, and it won’t be long before the rest of the world starts to know that some of the best sports fans in the world are right here at Jeld-Wen Field.

“It’s an honor to play for them. A lot of our never-quit attitude is a respect of the oath that those people take who come to sing and cheer for us an hour and a half before the game until the 96th minute. We owe that respect to them.”

For their first two MLS seasons, the Timbers have been more talk than action. The ingredients seem in place for something better this season.

“We’re disappointed with our start today, but we’re looking at the positive,” Will Johnson said. “A never-say-die attitude, that’s what we want our identity to be. Once we start cleaning things up defensively, we’re going to be a good team in this league.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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