It’s Early, But … A Look At Northwest MLS Soccer

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The Major League Soccer season is just one game old and not much can really be read into this past weekend’s results for our Northwest soccer teams.

Or can it?

A smart person will remind himself, “It’s early; the season is just starting. No need to panic or get too excited.”

But that’s no fun, and no one ever called me smart.

So, let’s take a quick look at what went right and what went wrong during the opening weekend for the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Portlan

You see. I spelled it with no “D.”

Get it? No d, as in no “defense.”

Ok, I stole that from soccer analyst Alexi Lalas, but it is spot on, summing up the Timbers’ debacle on Sunday against Minnesota.

Getting pummeled 3-1 on your home field is definitely deflating for Portland fans as expectations for the season are quite high. Falling to Minnesota, which lost 10 road games last season, hurts.

If you remember, the Timbers spent the first part of last season (12 straight games) on the road as their home turf, Providence Park, got a facelift. So, starting the season at their new park and laying an egg was a gut punch for the Portland faithful.

Minnesota did all its damage in the second half as United forward Kevin Molino slotted home two goals, and winger Ethan Finley picked up two assists. They were the first road team to win a season-opener at Portland in MLS history.

Portland did manage some possession in the first half and had a few chances but couldn’t break through in a physical first half that featured 11 Minnesota fouls. Goalkeeper Steve Clark kept the toothless Timbers in the match, but Minnesota slowly took control after the break.

The Timbers’ new defense was going to be the big question heading into this season, and time and time again on Sunday, Portland was opened up on the United counterattack. That is where they scored all three of their goals.

Portland managed just a penalty kick goal from an offense that the team was hopeful would be an upgrade from the one that was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last season.

In the offseason, the team found a replacement for troubled striker Brian Fernandez (contract terminated for substance abuse) when they signed Polish forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Chilean Felipe Mora. They will need to be more of a factor moving forward to help complement stalwarts Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and Diego Chara in the attack.

Again, it’s just one game. But the Timbers have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball if they are going to contend in a loaded Western Conference.

Vancouver

Also dropping a 3-1 contest at home over the weekend was the Vancouver Whitecaps.

To the Whitecaps’ credit, Kansas City scored three pretty nice goals. One came from Sporting K.C. newcomer Gadi Kinda, who hit a rocket into the upper corner that left the Vancouver keeper no chance and broke a 1-1 tie.

From there it was a back-and-forth battle, which saw the Whitecaps hit the post twice, and they were unlucky on several other clear chances.

Despite the loss, Vancouver looked much better at times than the team that finished dead last in the Western Conference in 2019 and won just eight games.

New arrival David Milinkovic and forward Lucas Cavallini showed they can play in this league and should only get better as the season moves forward.

The team has high hopes this season as they try to win both on the field and at the ticket booth. A 17 percent drop in season ticket sales has the team concerned after their dismal 2019 campaign.

There is a ton of pressure on head coach Marc Dos Santos to improve this team, heading into the season. A home loss didn’t help.

The Whitecaps are counting on a solid backline and improved scoring from their new arrivals. The question is: Can they put it all together? Coming off a brutal season and an opening-day loss, the Whitecaps may face fading expectations up north.

Seattle

The bright spot in Northwest soccer this weekend was the Seattle Sounders, who escaped with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire.

Jordon Morris came off the bench to score two second-half goals to save the defending MLS Cup champions from an embarrassing home tie or defeat.

The Sounders admittedly sunk a lot of time and effort preparing for a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament and started a strong lineup in both games last week. Unfortunately, they got knocked out and are forced to turn their attention to recapturing the MLS Cup.

Resting a few starters and sitting others because of injuries, the Seattle coaches rolled out a team on Sunday that was far from their “A” squad.

And it showed.

Newcomer Miguel Ibarra got the start in place of Jordon Morris on the wing and had a forgettable match. He missed two wide-open chances, sitters that would have blown the game open and prevented Seattle from having to steal one at the death to get three points.

The first half resulted in a lot of disconnected passing, and the absence of team captain Nicolas Lodeiro was evident. Sixteen-year-old Danny Leyva was stationed in the middle of the park, alongside newcomer Joao Paulo, and the unfamiliarity between the two was quite evident.

Leyva, for all his hard work and tenacity, showed his age and inexperience. He was out of position many times and had trouble linking his passes with teammates. He was replaced at halftime by Morris as the team switched back to a more familiar formation with Cristian Roldan in the middle and Morris out wide.

It paid off.

After giving up a soft goal seconds into the second half, Seattle responded as Roldan and Morris got to work. The offsides flag prevented both teams from adding to the scoreboard, but it was Morris who tied the game in the 62nd minute on an assist from Roldan.

As Chicago flopped and stalled to preserve the tie in the second half, it came back to haunt them. With six minutes of added time at the end of the match, Morris came to the rescue again and headed home a Roldan header off a corner kick in the 93rd minute to seal the victory.

Takeaways

1. Seattle looked tired after playing just three nights earlier. Chicago tried to take advantage but couldn’t quite put them away.

2. Watching Lodeiro limp up onto the stage to present the MLS Cup during the pregame ceremony was disconcerting. His hamstring tendinitis looks like it will keep him out a while, and we will have to wait some time before we get to see him teamed up with Joao Paulo in the midfield. Paolo has been impressive in the first three games and looks to be a force this season.

3. Jordan Morris, starting his fifth season, looks like he is going to be a beast this time around. If he can avoid injury, look for him to score even more goals than the 10 he tallied last season.

It wasn’t their best game, but as they always seem to do, the Sounders did just enough to secure a win. The Western Conference is flush with great teams in 2020, so getting three points at home is critical.

It’s a long season, and there is plenty of soccer still to be played.  All three Northwest teams seem to be on different paths, however.

Where those lead, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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About Author

John D. Hunter is Montana native but grew up in the Tacoma/Seattle area and proudly attended Washington State University. He is a former morning show producer on KJR SportsRadio in Seattle. For 7 years he produced ‘Knight in the Morning’ with Michael Knight and New York Vinnie. From there he moved to ESPN.com where he spent another 7 years as an Interactive Editor and Soccer reporter/writer. He has covered 3 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, 1998 World Cup in France and many more sporting events.

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