Last night was a great night of soccer at PGE Park. There was a buzz throughout the stadium. The Army packed at least 4 full sections of supporters. The enthusiasm was palpable in the season-opener in front of more than 10,900 fans.
5 memorable points I took from this game:
1) Takayuki Suzuki. The Japanese forward is absolutely in the top class of players in the USL. He reads the game so quickly. His touch is near perfect. And he's aggressive- he really plays with urgency and clearly enjoys beating his man one-on-one. Excellent work by the front office in acquiring this classy player. "He came here from Japan. He is the fu**ing man. Suzuki, Oh-Oh! Suzuki, Oh-Oh!
2) In the first half, it seemed like Portland was playing a diamond 4-4-2, with the wide men pinched in. I haven't seen enough of the team to judge this formation's effectiveness. However, when Puerto Rico went down to 10 men, Portland didn't make the immediate adjustment and stretch the width of the pitch. In the second half, Portland was immensely more effective in this regard. There was better possession and the Timbers were looking for the wholes.
3) There remains some work to do in the final third of the field where the link-up play between the forwards and midfielders could be improved. Perhaps some better running off the ball could create more options when the ball comes wide.
4) Ray Burse is an excellent keeper. He controls his area well and communicates with the defenders. He also showed his leadership qualities during the second half: there was an injury and Ray went up to his teammates and urged them on to maintain their intensity. But, Ray needs to check his frustration. There was a moment where Ray threw the ball up the left sideline and was visibly upset with the player for not catching up or anticipating the distribution.
5) The farewell to Timber Jim was emotional and heartfelt. You could see it on the players' faces, especially during the halftime ceremony. Jim has been a tremendous servant to the club and will not be forgotten. I was standing in the Timbers Army and there was genuine affection for this man, from fans new and old. See you around the ballpark. You are our Sunshine.
Up the Timbers!