More sorting out on road for Timbers
The Portland Timbers head to Orlando this week for the last of five consecutive road games to kick off the 2018 MLS season. They travel to Florida in search of their first win of the season and believing they are on the right track.
The first win under coach Giovanni Savarese almost came at Chicago on Saturday, a match that ended in a 2-2 draw. The Timbers led for the first time this season (twice, in fact). Diego Valeri, last season's MLS MVP, scored his first goal of the season. And Sebastian Blanco continued to deliver at a heightened level of intensity and productivity.
Alas, Bastian Schweinsteiger delivered two plays that produced Chicago goals. The former World Cup champion with Germany and Bayern Munich star played a central defensive position for much of the game (and was the player Blanco beat to the ball for his goal), but showed his class on both Fire goals — including with the cross headed for the tying goal in the 84th minute.
Reaction from Savarese and his players was mostly positive. The coach said being disappointed with a draw away from home is a good sign.
The five road games to start the season are a challenge but also a chance for the new coach to sort out some things before debuting in front of the Timbers Army. Through four games, 18 players have started and 21 have played. Injuries and absences explain those numbers — with Bill Tuiloma taking over for Liam Ridgewell in the last two games the most intriguing coaching decision so far.
In the long term, the chance for so many players to play early in the season should help Savarese learn his team, and help players understand what the new boss wants and also stay motivated to fight for playing time.
The cross-country trip this week looks like a tough challenge on several fronts. The forecast is for Orlando temperatures in the upper 80s. And the opponent will be hungry Lions. The 1 p.m. game is the fourth at home this season for an Orlando City club that on Saturday posted its first win by outscoring the New York Red Bulls, 4-3.
On the field, the Timbers' challenge will be to contain striker Dom Dwyer (who scored twice against New York), along with offseason acquisitions Sacha Kljestan in midfield and Justin Meram on the wing. It will be interesting to see how Savarese approaches a match that could be viewed as a final dress rehearsal ahead of the 2018 home opener on April 14 against Minnesota United.
• The Portland Thorns' first win of the National Women's Soccer League season — 3-2 at Chicago — came courtesy of world-class players providing fine finishes.
Christine Sinclair made the Red Stars pay for a sloppy pass late in the first half, then belted home a penalty kick. Those goals came after Lindsey Horan turned and rifled home an early corner kick chance.
Portland needed every goal on a windy night where each team pressed the other into deep-field mistakes. Both teams were missing significant players — the Thorns will be without key international players until at least late April — so the game was more about effort than beautiful soccer.
Still, the result was pretty nice for Portland, which has never lost to the Red Stars.
• Rich Gunney was the acting coach for the Thorns. Mark Parsons was suspended for two games, the NWSL announced late last week, for actions following the season-opening loss at North Carolina. Parsons was also fined an undisclosed amount for what the league called "major game misconduct" and "coach/staff misbehavior."
Gunney will again be in charge for the April 15 home opener against Orlando, which comes after this week's international break.
• Horan and Emily Sonnett are on the United States roster for friendly matches against Mexico on Thursday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (10:30 a.m.).
• The Thorns bolstered their attack last week by signing Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic.
The 27-year-old is the all-time goals leader for Switzerland (50 in 101 matches).
The 5-8 striker, who played the last seven seasons in Germany, was added because Australian forward Caitlin Foord, a key offseason addition, is likely out until at least July with an injury.
• After losing 4-2 on Saturday at Sandy, Utah, to Real Monarchs, T2 will travel to Tulsa for a Wednesday match against the Roughnecks.
Portland is 1-2-0 in United Soccer League play.
Timbers first-teamers Jeremy Ebobisse and Victor Arboleda scored goals in the Saturday loss.
• Best MLS match ever? It's hard to argue with that description of the first meeting between first-year club Los Angeles FC and MLS blue blood Los Angeles Galaxy.
Dubbed El Traffico, the new rivalry started with real drama. The newcomers led 3-0 an hour into the match before the Galaxy rallied to win 4-3.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic — in the Galaxy and MLS debut for one of the best forwards in the world over the last 15 years — scored from 40 yards on a ridiculous half-volley, then tallied the game-winner.
So the match of the year and the goal of the year are pretty much decided five weeks into the MLS season.
Then again, a jet-lagged Ibrahimovic played only 20 minutes on Saturday so maybe he'll have his game together by the time the Galaxy visit Providence Park on June 2.