The 2022 season is just around the corner. Players report to camp less than two weeks from now. But before we look forward to 2022, I wanted to look back at some of my favorite images from the 2021 season.
I have mentioned in this space before how games are a series of moments. The season is this way too. Like a good book, 2021 has some very defined chapters and some very memorable moments. It was not an easy season by any means, but was highly successful in more ways than one as the team hosted the MLS Cup to cap it off.
For me, 2021 had five chapters. Here are a few of my favorite moments and images from each:
Chapter One | Preseason
Each new year begins with a renewed optimism about the upcoming season, however 2021 brought the challenge of still playing in front of no or limited crowds because of the pandemic. This wasn't going to be a normal year, but, everyone could tell it would be much better than 2020.
Before the season, the team released a new primary kit and a new sponsor, TikTok, and this portrait of Eryk Williamson is one of my favorites from that shoot.
Another thing that only happens in the preseason is a two-a-day practices. On March 2nd I went out to the evening training session to try and shoot in the nice sunset light and I wasn't disappointed.
One question surrounding the preseason camp was the status of midfielder Sebastián Blanco. His status would be a big storyline in the first part of the year so I wanted to get some behind the scenes photos of the rehab process. Here he is swimming in the pool at the Providence Sports Care Center.
Chapter Two | Concacaf Champions League
The year began with a bang as the Timbers would play in the Concacaf Champions League against CD Marathon in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. CCL trips are always fun for me as a photographer because of the locations we visit and the photos that present themselves along the way.
The team was in Honduras for three days prior to the match. The weather was very rainy and forced the team to train at a some unconventional locations. The first training session was at what I think was a school field. You can imagine the commotion we caused as we arrived in the normally quiet neighborhood. The locals lined the fence to watch the Timbers practice.
The next day, the field at the stadium was still too wet to practice on, so we went to another stadium in the city for training. This venue had some great views of the mountains surrounding San Pedro Sula.
The Timbers would draw CD Marathon to setup the return trip to play in Portland. The game featured what would become a theme throughout the year, A Felipe Mora goal.
The return leg in Portland featured something the Timbers hadn't seen in over a year – fans in the stands. The game also had some great first half light, which, as a photographer is my favorite thing.
The Timbers won the match 5-0 thanks to a Yimmi Chara hat trick and setup a showdown with Mexico's Club América for the next round.
Leg 1 of the series with Club América would be at Providence Park. The atmosphere was electric, even with a limited crowd on hand. The Timbers would trail most of the match, but in the 97th minute, would be awarded a shot from the penalty spot with Mora converting to send the crowd into a frenzy – I begin to sense a theme – and give the Timbers a 1-1 draw heading to Mexico City.
Then the team traveled to U.N.A.M. Pumas' training facility to train. The training ground was unbelievable. Nestled into a hollowed out rock quarry, the busses had to drive through a James Bond-esque tunnel to access it. I wish my photos did the place justice, but I tried to show the beauty with a shot from my drone.
The Timbers were not able to pull out the victory in Mexico, but the experience would lay the groundwork for the rest of the season.
Chapter Three | MLS
In between the two CCL matches the MLS regular season had begun. During a game with Houston, I shot this image of defender Larrys Mabiala against the dusk sky.
June 19th was a milestone day in the season. The stadium was open to 80% capacity, the largest crowd since the pandemic began and Blanco made his return to the field after months away while rehabbing from a knee injury.
In the July 21st match against LAFC, Mora would once again score a 90+ minute game winner, in front of a full capacity crowd. The match also marked Diego Valeri's 100th goal for the Timbers.
Chapter Four | Seattle Away
Every season has a turning point. A make or break moment. Looking back at the 2021 season, you can pinpoint this exact moment in 2021. It came on August 29th in Seattle. Going into the match, the Timbers had hit a bit of a rough patch, having won only once in the previous seven games.
But everything changed that night. Blanco would return to the site of his injury the year before and score the first goal of the match and Mora would clinch it with a 95th minute goal of his own (sound familiar?).
After the match, the locker room was as jubilant as I'd ever seen. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off everyones shoulders and now the real season could begin. It was this night that head coach Giovanni Savarese began a new tradition. The team would sing the Timbers Army "Green and Gold" chant at the top of their lungs. This win felt different and this game is where the Timbers as we know them would exit the Lumen Field locker room and make the final push to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the game did not come without costs as Williamson was injured in the opening minutes and would be out for the remainder of the year. The season was defined by injuries and the adversity that comes with them, though and they had the depth to overcome any obstacles.
The Timbers would continue the good run of results, including a September 15th match against Colorado where they played the entire second half down a man. Mora scored in the 67th minute and the ensuing celebrations where some of my favorite shots of the season.
After scoring the way only Asprilla can, he ran over to the victory log and climbed onto top in one of the best celebrations of the year, leading the way to a 2-0 win with the season winding down and the playoffs on deck.
Chapter Five | MLS Cup Playoffs
The first round of the playoffs the Timbers hosted Minnesota and early in the game, Mabiala almost duplicated what Asprilla had done a couple of weeks earlier with a bicycle attempt of his own.
The attempt would miss, but it made a great picture. He would score a few moments later and Blanco would score twice to lead the team to a 3-1 win.
The win setup a Thanksgiving Day match in Colorado. The game was tight and the light was great. i shot this image of Blanco in the first half.
The game would remain scoreless until Mabiala scored late, setting up a Western Conference Finals match with Real Salt Lake. Once again in the locker room post game, "Green and Gold" echoed through the halls as the Timbers celebrated the victory.
The Timbers would defeat RSL 2-0 at Providence Park and the celebrations on the field after the match made great photos.
As the team prepared to host the MLS Cup for the first time, I wanted to cover the behind the scenes moments that we might not always see. The team is always preparing whether it be in the gym, the film room or on the field. The little moments leading up to the MLS Cup are some of my favorite images from the season.
And finally, the MLS Cup. It's no surprise to me that Mora scored the most memorable goal of the year, a 95th minute goal that made Providence Park louder than its ever been. Jon Ferrey captured this moment from the eastside of the field.
I was next to the bench and capture Gio's reaction
In the end, the Timbers lost the final in a PK shootout, but despite the injuries, the adversity and the pandemic, we can call 2021 a success. Time to start all over and i can't wait to see what 2022 brings.