Heading into the Portland Timbers inaugural CONCACAF Champions League match against Guyanese side Alpha United, much of the talk surrounded the brutal travel to even reach the small country on the north coast of South America.
But after the Timbers’ 4-1 victory on a steamy Tuesday night at Guyana National Stadium in Georgetown, Portland showed their first appearance in the tournament is about what happens on the field.
The 2013 MLS Western Conference regular season champions showed they meant business, albeit against an overmatched side, despite traveling all day Sunday and getting in one training session before the match that was played on a cricket field.
“I was very pleased with the result but even more so the performance,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “I thought it was very professional from start to finish, comprehensive.”
In reality, the outside factors weren’t much different from a cross-country trip in MLS play, Porter said, where humidity and varying field types are the norm.
“Game in and game out in Major League Soccer, there’s no easy games,” Porter said. “We talked about that going into this game. We’re in midseason form, and I think our organization, our fitness showed and our mental toughness as well. I thought that was the difference.”
First-half goals from Steve Zakuani and Maximiliano Urruti were followed by Fanendo Adi and Alvas Powell strikes in the second half. The only Timbers blemish was a first-half stoppage time free kick goal, on a stunning long-distance strike from Barbosa Murillo.
“That was a world-class strike,” Porter said of Murillo’s goal.
Porter said he was most pleased with an overwhelmingly dominant performance coming out of the halftime locker room.
“A lot of teams giving up a late goal to go 2-1 start to scramble, and we put the game away with the third goal and then even went another one to go to four,” he said.
The win puts Portland atop Group 5 on goal differential after Honduran champions Olimpia beat Alpha 1-0 in their opener two weeks ago. Portland now face home games against Olimpia (Sept. 16) and Alpha (Sept. 23) before rounding out group play in Honduras (Oct. 21).
Before that, however, they’ll have to complete the longest trip in CCL history with a flight back to Portland, which will include fuel stops in Jamaica and Houston, before facing the Seattle Sounders in league play on Sunday back home at Providence Park (2 pm PT, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
“In any tournament the first game is crucial, getting off to a good start,” Porter said. “We knew because Olimpia defeating Alpha and getting three points that this was an important match, and not only did we want to get three points but we also wanted to build some goal differential if we could.”
Waiting for them will be a fresh group of 10 players who didn’t make the trip to Guyana and returned to Portland from New England following their 1-1 draw on Saturday.
“For us to basically put out a full new group of 10 guys shows how deep a team we have,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.