Competition: Major League Soccer – Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United
Venue: Providence Park – Friday, March 3 – 21:30 ET (02:30 GMT)
Match Odds: Portland 3/5 – Draw 3/1 – Minnesota 4/1
It’s here. The 2017 MLS season kicks off on Friday night as the Portland Timbers welcome Minnesota United to Providence Park in what is an extremely daunting MLS bow for the expansion side.
Portland come into the new season knowing they must improve on last year’s campaign. The 2015 MLS Cup Champions failed to even make the playoffs, let alone get close to defending their title, and Caleb Porter knows his side must bounce back now.
The Western Conference is just as competitive as it was last season, with the addition of Minnesota only making it tougher to seal a top six spot, and Portland’s talented squad will be expected to at least make the top six in 2017.
Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Adi should continue to make Portland a real threat in the final third, while the addition of new DP Sebastian Blanco should only make them more dynamic this year.
That doesn’t bode well for a Minnesota side that failed to win any of its five preseason games in preparation for what is expected to be a long and challenging season.
They did however earn a draw at Portland three weeks ago, playing out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Providence Park. Johan Venegas scored twice to put Minnesota 2-0 up at halftime, before Jack McInerney and Fanendo Adi fired in to see the game end in a tie.
In Adrian Heath, the Loons have a head coach who has been in this position before. Only two years ago, he was in charge of Orlando City as an expansion franchise, although he did have a world-class star in Kaka on hand to help deliver week-by-week.
United don’t have any real stars heading into their debut campaign. The club have not filled a single DP slot while building their squad, with any spending likely to come later on in the summer once the club know a bit more about their identity.
Over 150 Minnesota fans are travelling 1,400 miles to Portland for their first ever game and they will be dreaming of leaving with at least a point ahead of their home opener against fellow newcomers Atlanta United next weekend.
Only one of last 11 expansion sides have made the playoffs in their first season. Some have suggested this Minnesota team could be one of the ‘worst in MLS history’, but that is unlikely to be true. It’s now up to the players to prove they belong in MLS.
This will be the 11th time these two sides have ever faced off competitively but the first in Major League Soccer. They played 10 times in the USL and NASL between 2008 and 2010, with the Timbers winning four and United taking just the one victory in that time.
Portland’s preseason form: L/L/D/D/D/W/W
Minnesota’s preseason form: D/D/D/D/D/L
Key Stat: Portland have never lost their their first home game of an MLS season. They have won three and drawn three of their home openers since joining the league in 2011.
Key Player: Diego Valeri – The Timbers playmaker is one of the league’s finest players and will be looking to start as he did last year, by scoring Portland’s first goal of the season in front of the home fans. Valeri is heading into his fifth MLS season and will be hoping to build on last season’s goal tally of 14, which was a career high for the Argentine DP.
Portland Timbers 3-1 Minnesota United – On paper, this looks set to be an excellent season opener as both sides have plenty of weapons in attack to cause both defensive units problems. Minnesota couldn’t have picked a much tougher away game for their first ever match in Major League Soccer and they will do well to leave Providence Park with anything, as the Timbers should be out to prove that last year was indeed just a blip. Portland have enough quality to cause the Loons backline endless problems, so it’s hard to look past three points for the home side here.