Philadelphia Union lose season opener to Portland Timbers, 3-1

PORTLAND, Ore. - In 2011, the Philadelphia Union scored first in just five of their 17 regular season road games.

In their first road game of 2012 Monday night, the Union took an early lead, but couldn’t hold on to it.

The Portland Timbers ran roughshod over the Union after Gabriel Gomez’s 51st minute free kick goal, dealing the Union a 3-1 defeat in their season opener.

Backed by a raucous sellout crowd of 20,438, Portland controlled most of the possession in a scoreless first half. It was hard work for the Union’s defense, but outside backs Sheanon Williams and new Union signing Porfirio Lopez held firm within the narrow confines of JELD-WEN Field’s artificial surface.

Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath was forced to make a diving save in the eighth minute of a looping shot by Kris Boyd, who joined the Timbers during the offseason from famed Scottish club Glasgow Rangers.

The Union did not record a shot until the 18th minute, when another newcomer - Colombian forward Lionard Pajoy - shook off a defender and struck a low drive wide left from long range.

Pajoy started up front with Josué Martinez, which relegated former No. 1 draft pick Danny Mwanga to the bench.

Boyd and MacMath tangled again in the 21st minute, as MacMath charged out of his net to clear the ball away from a hard-charging Boyd. 

Four minutes later, Boyd crashed into Carlos Valdés as both players leapt for the ball, and the collision left Valdés sprawled on the ground holding his head. Valdés returned to the field a few minutes later, but appeared groggy. 

Slowly, the Union was able to build up more possession of the ball. In the 31st minute, Michael Farfan worked his way open in the center of the field about 25 yards from goal, and had space to shoot but opted to pass toward onrushing Pajoy. 

His pass went awry, though, and the Union’s best chance to score in the first half fizzled out. 

Portland nearly struck in the opening minutes of the early first half, but a goal line clearance from Valdés prevented Kalif Alhassan’s from going into the net. 

But it was the Union that got on the board first, in the 51st minute. Freddy Adu was fouled in possession of the ball about 35 yards from goal, and midfielder Gabriel Gomez smashed a swerving free kick past Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

The ball took a slight deflection off Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste along the way, but not enough for it to be ruled an own goal. 

Within three minutes, Portland tied the game from a free kick of its own. Jean-Baptiste headed a service from Jack Jewsbury down and towards the net, and the ball slipped under MacMath as he sprawled on the wet turf.

MacMath redeemed himself quickly, though, making a double-save and two more diving stops over the next four minutes.

Boyd scored the winning goal the 66th minute, thumping a header past a stranded MacMath off a cross from Alhassan. Ten minutes later, Alhassan sealed the victory with a spectacular chip over MacMath and a cluster of Union defenders from an acute angle.

Four months and nine days after the Philadelphia Union's 2011 season ended with a playoff loss in Houston, Peter Nowak's revamped squad is set to take the field again.

The stage is set here at JELD-WEN Field for an electric night, as the Timbers Army will get to show off before a national television audience on ESPN2.

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Starting Lineups

Portland Timbers

Goalkeeper: Troy Perkins
Defenders: Lovel Palmer, Eric Brunner, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Rodney Wallace
Midfielders: Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chará, Eric Alexander
Forwards: Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd

Bench: GK Jake Gleeson; Ds Mike Chabala, Ryan Kawulok; Ms Freddie Braun, James Marcelin, Darlington Nagbe; F Bright Dike

Philadelphia Union

Goalkeeper: Zac MacMath
Defenders: Porfirio Lopez, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdés, Sheanon Williams
Midfielders: Brian Carroll, Gabriel Gomez, Michael Farfan, Freddy Adu
Forwards: Lionard Pajoy, Josué Martinez

Bench: GK Chase Harrison; Ms Keon Daniel, Gabriel Farfan, Amobi Okugo; Fs Cristhian Hernandez, Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga