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Match report: Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers

Photo: Earl Gardner

The Philadelphia Union did not get off to the start they were looking for in 2012, slumping to a 3–1 defeat at Portland’s Jeld-Wen Stadium on a rainy Monday night.

Goals from debutants Jean-Andrew Baptiste and Kris Boyd brought Portland back after the Union’s Gabriel Gomez, making his own debut for Philadelphia, gave his side the lead with a powerfully struck free kick. With just under 15 minutes to play, Kalif Alhassan’s teasing chip put the match away for the Timbers, who were the sharper, more aggressive side on the night. Gomez, Lionard Pajoy, Josue Martinez and Porfirio Lopez all debuted for the new look Union on a night when they experimented with formations and tactics throughout.

First half

Cagey from the start, neither side could gain a clear advantage in the early going, though Portland was able to craft the better chances. Midfield turnovers plagued the Union all night and a misplaced Brian Carroll pass set the Timbers away in the 8th minute. But Zac MacMath, playing his first match as the Union No. 1 goalkeeper, was sharp, tipping a curling effort around the post.

In the 20th minute, with both fullbacks pressing high in attack, Portland looked to find space behind the advancing Sheanon Williams and Lopez. MacMath again had to be sharp as he rushed off his line to smother a dangerous break.

Philadelphia fans were soon holding their breath when an accidental clash of heads between Carlos Valdes and Kris Boyd left the Union player worse for wear, but fortunately he was able to carry on.

As the half wore on and neither side could settle into an attacking rhythm, the Union continued to shuffle their lineup. Martinez, Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan all took turns rotating through the different midfield positions, but none of the three could conjure any magic for the visitors, nor provide a link between Gomez and Pajoy going forward. With a midfield stalemate over the first 45 minutes, both sides were happy for the halftime whistle bring an end to a largely unstructured first stanza.

Second half

While Portland had the first chance of the second half, it was the Union who jumped out to a 1-0 lead.

In the 48th minute, Eric Alexander was again able to skip in behind Williams to send his cross into the Union area. When it was not dealt with at the back post, all Lopez could do was to try and block the ensuing shot. His effort directed the ball past a surprised MacMath, but Valdes was able to clear the line.

On the other end, Adu was dragged down 30 yards from goal, giving the Union a chance to bring their big bodies forward. Gomez’s service was powerful and heading for the back post, where Portland’s Andrew-Jean Baptiste could only get a glancing touch on the ball before it nestled into the net behind him to give the Union the lead.

Portland responded quickly, and MacMath needed to be sharp yet again as charged off his line to take a cross off of Jorge Perlaza’s head. But it was a gaffe from MacMath that opened the flood gates on the Union when he spilled Baptiste’s header into his own net in the 54th minute.

The Union struggled to mount a response following the equalizer and MacMath did not have long to think about his mistake before he was called back into action, making an excellent double save, first deflecting a low cross before parrying the rebound chance away from close range. The introduction of Danny Mwanga in the 60th minute gave the Union a second presence up top, but the midfield continued to struggle in possession. Like Pajoy before him, Mwanga would be unable to stamp his influence on the match.

In the 66th minute, the Timbers charged into the lead when Lopez gave Kalif Alhassan time to deliver an inch perfect cross onto the head of Kris Boyd, whose glancing header left MacMath with no chance. It would be hard to say that it was not fair reward for a long spell of pressure.

The one-way traffic continued until Portland’s 76th minute tally sealed the win for the home team. Jack Jewsbury’s quickly taken free kick released Alhassan to beat Jack McInerney, who had entered the match only two minutes before for Adu. Alhassan then strolled unmarked into the Union box to loft an unstoppable chip inside of MacMath’s back post.

The Union had little fight left after going down two goals. While Union supporters would have been pleased at the return of Keon Daniel, who entered for Michael Farfan with 10 minutes to play, Portland walked away as comfortable winners from the first match of the 2012 season.

Philadelphia Union

Starters: Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Porfirio Lopez; Freddy Adu (Jack McInerney ’74), Brian Carroll, Gabriel Gomez, Michael Farfan (Keon Daniel ’79), Josue Martinez (Danny Mwanga ’60); Lionard Pajoy

Unused subs: Chase Harrison, Amobi Okugo, Christhian Hernandez, Gabriel Farfan

Total shots: 5; Fouls: 14 Offsides: 0; Corner kicks: 1 Saves: 4

Portland Timbers

Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Will Brunner, Andrew-Jean Baptiste, Lovel Palmer; Eric Alexander (Darlington Nagbe ’66), Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan; Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd (James Marcelin ’80)

Unused subs: Jake Gleeson, Mike Chabala, Bright Dike, Freddie Braun, Ryan Kawulok

Total shots: 17; Fouls: 8; Offsides: 2; Corner kicks: 7; Saves: 1

Scoring Summary

51′ – Philadelphia: Gabriel Gomez

54′ – Portland: Andrew-Jean Baptiste (Jack Jewsbury)

66′ – Portland: Kris Boyd (Kalif Alhassan)

76′ – Portland: Kalif Alhassan (Jack Jewsbury)

Have questions that you’d like the PSP’s Eli Pearlman-Storch to answer in a post? Send them to epstorch@phillysoccerpage.com along with your full name and where you live, both in PPL Park and in the world, and he will get to them in an upcoming post on the Philly Soccer Page. 


  1. Josh of Kensington says:

    Brian Carroll seemed redundant. I hate it when Gomez passes to him, and he doesn’t even look up, just passes it back. Pajoy had a good first half, then disappeared. Lopez wasn’t what we hoped, how much the Union was effected by training in Florida and Costa Rica and then playing in a cold and rainy Portland, I’d like to know. I saw flashes from Adu and Martinez, and still am excited for what this squad can do this year. Gomez is a monster.

    I think Zach played well. Did he let a goal in that he shouldn’t have? We all know the answer to that. Did he come off his line at just the right time a number of times- and further than Mondragon would have gone- yeah he did that too. He also seemed to move beyond the gaff with aplomb, right back into the air, throwing punches.

    • the flashes i saw from adu all sucked.

      • He gave the ball away more often than not.

      • He was the only guy in the midfielder that looked comfortable with the ball at his feet going forward. Both Martinez and Marfan looked really poor. Seems like you were just watching Adu’s price tag instead of his play.

      • UnitedPenn13 says:

        I agree with nickt. & PMM. Most of the team had trouble making 3 consecutive passes on Monday evening but Adu is being promoted as a team leader, see the “Fit, happy Adu ready to take leadership role for Union” in the “Latest News” section of the Union web site. He also has no concept of how to play defense or putting pressure on the opponents. Very disappointing start to the season.

  2. DarthLos117 says:

    Disappointing. Gonna be a long year.

  3. T of the U says:

    I agree with a lot of what Josh of Kensington posted. The weak preseason definitely appears to have hurt the Union here…it definitely showed that Portland gained from facing some real competition while warming up for the season.

    It also appears that Nowak really hasn’t figured out his formation…as much as I like Carroll, it pretty apparent that Gomez is the answer in the center of the pitch…not both together. I’m more than willing to give MacMath more time to show what he can do. Lopez was very dissapointing IMO, he was basically responsible for that Boyd tally. He didn’t put any pressure on the ball deep in our end and basically gave Portland a free cross into the box. It’s going to be choppy beginning to the season until Nowak figures out his lineup and formation.

  4. I thought that Lopez was weak in the back and I dont see him as an improvement from Gab. Also, where was Adu actually playing? For a supposed star, he hid for a lot of the game. Also, its pretty awful when I can’t immediately figure out who has the ball because there were so many Newbs on the team and their preseason apparently TOP SECRET

    • DarthLos117 says:

      Good news! Adu is going with the U-23’s!!! Let him go play with those kids, MLS is an adult league where he underperforms.

  5. Put the date of this article to last year and it sounds exactly the same. The U were exposed last night for the same exact problems we had last year. It’s like deja vu all over again.

  6. Nowak got totally out-managed. Portland countered the Union’s formation (intended to clog the midfield), by playing long balls over the midfield, basically from the moment the 2nd half started. They were sending 2 people down the right wing at Lopez (Perlazza and Alhassan) into the space behind the midfield. Nowak did little to adjust, and Portland owned the second half.

    I love Califf, but he did not look good. He was beaten to the spot multiple times yesterday.

    Besides the one “oops”, I thought MacMath had a solid game with good, aggressive moves off his line. He was getting peppered with opportunities and did not get the “Seitzy-Oh-Shit” look despite the adversity.

    Oh, by the way, that tiny, plastic Jeld-Wen field sucks.

  7. Even though Lopez did not have the best of games, I think he has potential and just needs time to gel with the rest of the back line. Califf had a bad game. That Boyd goal was all on him (lost his mark).

    The midfield did seem like a mess. I agree that Carroll and Gomez are redundant, unless Novak really opts for 2 holding midfielders (a la Dutch National team) but that would be a mistake considering the lack of midfield attacking talent. Marfan needs to shoot and Pajoy needs support if he is playing lone striker. I have to say, though, I liked what I saw in the first half from Pajoy. Strong on the ball. I am Colombian myself, and know that coming from a lifetime in Colombia to suddenly playing in wet/cold Portland was probably a shock. I hope we see more from him as he has potential.

  8. Last night was obviously disappointing because of the result and that ugly second half but I thought the team looked…way…more skilled than last years in the first half. While we still didn’t have that killer instinct (marfan shoot for christ’s sake) I thought the hold up of Pajoy and the vision of Gomez and Martinez were good. Freddy to his credit had a number of good settling passes in tight spaces but did not do anything special let alone star like. Everyone is crushing Lopez, I think he looked slow and at times a little out of position or tired in the back but he was certainly an upgrade of Garfan in his service down field. Saw him connect on a number of nice long balls including the offside to Pajoy that looked real promising. I’m not ready to throw in the towel and I don’t know what to think about Carrol but I certainly would like to see Okugo get some starts to see what it does to the center midfield problems.

  9. Let’s get one thing straight. Playing in the rain on the smallest field outside of Buckshaw on turf doesn’t bode well for any team heading in there. Plus there fans are loud, do there goes communication on the field. And playing a game at 10pm East Coast time, and you can see the advantage the West Coast Teams have on the U. So the doomsday folks need to chill. Portland was and will continue to have a great home record. They stink in the road where teams that have larger fields can stretch them out.

    As for our players, Williams and Lopez outright shit the bed and slept in it. The injury to Valdez I suspect really took his his game down a notch, so his cover on those two wasn’t what it should have been.

    Adu, for all the haters, needs the ball. He has the highest percentage of completed forward passes and lost possession on the wing once. The attack needs to start with him and there where to many times they played right up the left wing and he was wide open on the other side.

    Pajoy is the target forward that we need. He will be awesome. Live his game.

    Martinez will surprise some people with his speed. I am looking forward to him grow.

    Gomez/Carroll- pick on or the other Peter… Use an attacking mid and stop playing the empty bucket. Adu/Marfan are not fast enough to support that system. Use one as the Attacking mid.

    I love Jmac’s offensive game, but son, defend. Especially against that asshole Alhassan. I fucking hate that cocky midget. And that was a cross. Go fuck yourself Merritt Paulson. He didn’t chip the keeper.

    Seitz, er Macmath is a definite upgrade to Mondy and his slow as shit diving ability, but come on kid, you have to make that first save. That was plain horseshit. Get your head screwed on.

    • Do you have a link to the stats for Adu? I find it hard to believe that he had the best completion percentage with all the giveaways he had in the first half.

      • Foward passes- not negative or square passes. Marfan gave the ball away way more than Adu.

      • I can remember three distinct times that Adu lost possession (twice in the first half, and once in the Portland box in the second), but very few completed passes. I’m not saying you are wrong (my memory is not always the best), but I would love to see the individual player stats. Does anyone know if they posted somewhere?

    • MikeRSoccer says:

      Good points. I would argue that Williams and Lopez were doomed by Nowak’s coaching. In the second half they showed Nowak telling Lopez and Williams to push up. In the formation with Marfan and Adu played out of position they simply didn’t have the defensive help, which meant the CB’s were stretched and the backs were exhausted. I agree with you on Adu. The key is that he needs to played as a CAM. Nowak needs to stop this Adu at LM experiment just as he needs to stop the JackMac LW disaster. I can’t believe that at one point in the second half we had Mac, Pajoy and Mwanga on the field even though they all naturally play the same position. Of course there was no offensive connection. We had 3 strikers, 2 CDMs and a LM on the field by the end of the game. How was that ever going to work?

  10. MikeRSoccer says:

    I place the blame of this loss squarely on the shoulders of MacMath and Nowak. I actually think MacMath played a pretty good game besides the one atrocious moment and the Alhassan cross, but allowing that goal inflated the crowd, revitalized the players and ramped up the pressure. The comments on Lopez are a bit harsh I think. The formation that Nowak played meant that Marfan had to supply the extra cover for Lopez, but because Marfan is not a LM he naturally moved into the center and even moved over to the RM often in the “fluid system”. Lopez was left all alone sometimes having to rush back to cover multiple players meaning that Califf was pulled over as well. Caroll looked lost, unable to handle the pace and rarely did anything to justify his selection. Gomez and Pajoy looked fantastic. At the end of the day the fact that Marfan, Adu and Martinez were played woefully out of their natural positions meant there was no connection in the final third. I’m willing to let this loss slide because I honestly was not expecting to win at Portland in their home opener, but the fact that we had 2 shots on target and no offensive fluidity is worrying for our season prospects.

    • I’d cut McMath a little bit of a break. Tough place to play and wet conditions. Young kids make mistakes. Nowak, on the other hand…

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        Agreed. These are the types of mistakes that a 20 year old keeper makes, which is something that you would expect Nowak to realize. But, that doesn’t change the fact that his mistake did completely change the momentum of the game.

      • Correct, though the last two goals could have been prevented with better defensive play.

      • Unionfan11 says:

        I have to agree with Mike here on this one. Do I think overall MacMath had a good game, yes. But the point here is that the goal he allowed gave all the momentum and belief to a Portland side that was soon going to become frustrated. On the road, you just have to make that save, and keep the belief on your side.

  11. Portland played 7 – SEVEN – preseason games against MLS teams… Philly played NONE, choosing a vacation preseason in some God forsaken place in Central America without any cameras, fighting rather than playing high caliber soccer. Gee, go figure, it showed. Portland was a MUCH better team. The Union defense was just asleep last night with Portland attackers carriying the game, making the “upgraded” back line look like rookies. The field and the weather were only excuses… and where was the new and improved Freddy? And that name keeps coming up, even on TV… Chris Seitz! He will haunt us forever when bad goals are scored and the first goal WAS a bad goal, wet field or not. Zack’s in the MLS now full time, NO EXCUSES. Poor outting… and Colorado up next. We’ll see. Pajoy… impressive… for a 30 year old… but he needs a team around him… or the name LaToux will haunt him as Seba fills the net for the Whitecaps. Can’t wait for when Vancouver is in Chester and I break out my new LaToux kit!

  12. Does anyone else think that Pajoy and Le Toux would have made a nice tandem? Pajoy can hold the ball like Moreno used to, and Le Toux could make runs off of him.

  13. Andy Muenz says:

    This was the first time I’ve been embarrassed to be a Union fan. The team showed no heart last night and were beaten to nearly every loose ball. They stood around waiting for passes to arrive rather than running towards the pass to prevent Portland from intercepting. It’s a lot easier to forgive MacMath’s mistake on a wet night than it is to forgive the rest of the team for allowing so many opportunities to Portland and basically not even trying.

  14. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    We are up a goal, Zac lets in a terrible goal, then timbers take over. I blame this loss on Zac. Lopez wasn’t good, but he was under a lot of pressure and didn’t always get the help he was presumably supposed to get. Adu looked to be ready to click, but then he never did. Carroll looked lost and the rest of the team looked like headless chickens.

    • Zac didn’t let in 3 goals so I think blaming the loss on him is a bit much.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        Im pretty sure our keeper let in three goals last night and its fair to say that he lost us the game…t shirt league mistake shifted momentum, opened the flood gates.

      • you know what I meant. Only one goal was directly because of him. If the Union are gonna fold every time something goes wrong or a mistake is made then it is gonna be a long season.

      • McMath will be fine going forward, but there do appear to be problems across the board with this team. Hopefully, it was just a bad first game in Portland, and they’ll soon recover.

  15. santas grotto says:

    This was a team not prepared for an opening game on the road in this environment. That means the management shares a large part of the blame. None of the new players impressed me. Gomez looks like he is enjoying too many Krispy Kremes and that come summer time after a busy schedule is going to melt. The money we spent on him when we have Carroll and Okugo to play the same position is a waste. That money should have been spent on an impact player. This is a team filled with role players and no leaders. I may be proven wrong, but this is going to be a long year. Tell me one place on the pitch where the team has improved from last year? Finally, Nowak needs to stop experimenting with tactics during the match. Finally, really, Williams was poor for me. I think we need competition for backline positions. We are thin and one injury away from a disaster.

    • Your last sentence is definately on point after Valdes’s head injury. I was very worried for him, and concerned what the defense will look without him for a sustained period.

  16. PhillyHotSpur says:

    Zac simply CANNOT let that ball in……we scored, we had the momentum & the result could have been much different if our keeper doesn’t basically give our opponent a crucial goal. A distant memory of that trainwreck in Seitz popped up again and I’m praying we dont have a repeat performance.

    And nowak……..Leaves right where he left off w/ his ill-fated 5 man BL from last year. 4-1-3-1 ?? U serious ? Playing not to lose basically……..F that. lets do what we do best……Attacking fubol. I’m really getting impatient w/ our manager. Dream big not small……..

    Sunday –>3 points is a must or it could be a long season. DOOP (i think)

    • A 4-1-3-1? Do you mean a 4-2-3-1?

      The 4-2-3-1 is a great formation FOR THE Right team, not the Union. The Dutch use it, but look at their players, Von Bommel and De Jong holding MF, Sjneider as the pivot and Van Persie in front.

      We don’t have players like that and if Novak is going back to his diamond 4 midfield (4-4-2), then Gomez may be the best holding mid (sorry Carroll) and Torres in front of him to feed Pajoy.

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        I did not see the Union playing a 4-2-3-1. That would have meant that Adu was the CAM, which he was not since he spent the evening on right side of the field drifting in to the middle and Marfan did the same from the left. In reality I think they were playing a staggered 4-2-2-2 with Pajoy at the top and Martinez at an elevated LW position. They were also still playing Nowak’s “fluid system” in this ghastly formation. The 4-2-2-2 chaos theory system.

    • A must win game in March? It really is gonna be a long season.

  17. I’m not going to overreact after the first game of the season. Going to Portland for First Kick with the TA going out of their minds on national TV was always going to be a tough task. I would have been pretty satisfied with a draw. My thoughts in general were that Lopez, Califf, Marfan, Freddy and Martinez had poor games. Lopez was too passive and allowed way too many crosses into our box. Gotta say I would have preferred Garfan’s more aggressive play out on the left side. Martinez was pretty much invisible and Marfan & Freddy turned the ball over to Portland on too many occassions. Capt. Bearfight had an off night, eerily similar to his 2010 form. Zac had a decent game, save for that howler of a first goal. He made some great saves otherwise the scoreline would have been alot more embarassing. ZMac wasn’t protected very well by his back four and I don’t fault him on Boyd’s goal (poor marking) or Alhassan’s cross that floated into the net. Spencer out managed Nowak. It’s a long season and I’ll reserve judgement until we see a larger sample of what this team can and can’t do.

  18. Timbers fan here, stopping by to see the other perspective. Saw a few Union fans at Jeld-Wen last night, and they did you proud. Friendly to all but supportive of their team.

    A few comments based on your comments. Yes, the field is small. However, the fact that it isn’t grass isn’t a big deal. It really is an outstanding surface, better than many natural grass fields around the league. I dream about a bigger natural grass pitch, but that will be a long time in the future if ever.

    Personally, I don’t blame your keeper. Even after the Union goal, I was confident the Timbers were going to pull it out. The Timbers were poking and prodding and it just seemed like a matter of time before they found a way through. The keeper had way too much to deal with on the night, and he did well to keep the Timbers off the board as long as he did.

    The Union looked like a team that hasn’t practiced enough together, and I think they were unfortunate to open the season so far away from home on a cold, rainy night. I think they’ll do fine after some home cooking. Certainly lots of talent, but just not putting things together yet.

    I hope you all make it out to Portland for a match. Cheers.

  19. The Union had a terrible game. The reason why is because we did not play a single MLS side in preseason. How can it possibly help to play central american teams for preseason?

    Macmath definitely did NOT lose the game for us or is the cause of the loss regardless of the goal which was his fault. We scored on a lucky set piece and the Timbers answered right back. Sure the goal Macmath helped the Timbers but how many other saves did he make that Mondragon would have made? He kept the Union in the game for the most part. Our goal came against the run of play

    We need 1 Defensive center mid not 2 Carroll or Gomez, pick one I don’t care which. We should know from last year that we only need 1.

    The formation last night worked well with the first line of pressure until the Timbers made the first line over commit and go back through the middle anyway. Seriously need improvement in the tactics department.

    Our striker Pajoy did well but needs the 3 attacking mids to support more.

    We had many counters last night that if we would have switched the field we could have advanced down the field more quickly. We were so quick to force it down one side when we could have opened up.

    Do not quote me on this but after halftime the ESPN reporter said Nowak was pleased with first half (I’m pretty sure thats what I heard) There is no way any other coach would be happy with the Unions performance.

    Also, Nowak has “trust” in the youngsters. That means none of the youngsters should get transferred out of the blue like Le Toux was. Just a thought

    Finally, What do you guys expect from a team that is extremely young, has a bunch of new transfers and that was their first game against REAL opposition not some crap central american preseason team. That is not a formula for winning any games, any time soon.

    Finally, seriously, my Italian friend’s dad used to say when we were little “SHOOT DE BALL!!!”

  20. Like always, while there are certainly holes and areas to be improved in this team, the #1 thing that concerns me is Nowak. His lack of tactical skill or team building or sense of cohesion is going to ruin us more than any opponent.

  21. I would have to place the blame on Nowak for this one. Playing bunker ball against a poor defense that was forced to start a rookie CB is inexcusable. An attack minded approach would have caught Portland off guard. Instead, Nowak’s gameplan was predictable and Spencer saw it coming. Portland threw everything at the Union, and they eventually folded.

    Disappointing start to the season, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

  22. I would have been disappointed in my under 15 goalie for letting that ball in the net.
    Goalie must be steady on this team or we are in for a long season.
    Nowak must figure out what’s going on during the match and adjust to the play. That being said we can be competitive, I think.
    I still don’t see Adu ???
    the team did miss Seba’s energy.

  23. Odd. This is the exact same scenario that the Union faced in 2010 and it played out the same way in the end. An unknown quantity playing in an away game in the Northwest, in the wet, on turf, in front of a huge intimidating crowd, a lackluster performance, and, just as eerily, a two goal loss. We looked like an expansion team.

    The only difference is that this team has more potential and more talent than two years ago. I love that we have two options at CDM in Carroll and Gomez. He needs to stick with one or maybe platoon them. I hate the idea of two defensive mids, at least to start the game. That’s one more player that can be used up front.

    There are still two glaring issues: failure of the midfielders to serve the forward line, and forwards who would rather be unselfish and / or go for the “cute” goal then shoot ball outright. There needs to be a killer instict and I’m still not seeing it on a consistant basis.

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