Tonight’s Portland Timbers defeat at the Montréal Impact may go down as one of those “schedule losses” we talked about this morning, but for a stretch of the second half from Stade Saputo, it looked like Portland was the more likely team to claim a 2-1 result. Instead, it was the second goal of the night from 21-year-old Nigerian Orji Okwonkwo that decided the match, leaving those reasons for hope the Timbers had cultivated while the score was 1-1 as moments that will be forgotten.
“In the second half, we just established ourselves, and we felt pretty good,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said after the match. “I thought that we started to create a little bit more, but unfortunately, we leave without a point.”
Instead, What We’ll Remember from Wednesday night will be Okwonkwo’s winner. We’ll remember the breakthrough goal that came before, the first for a young Timber. And we’ll remember that hour before kickoff spent processing a lineup with so many new faces, with so many familiar one not in uniform.
This loss won’t be one of the more memorable moments of the 2019 season, but just like last year’s draw at the New England Revolution under similar circumstances, a few small memories will linger. The first will be the nature of that XI, itself.
Testing the depth
No Brian Fernandez to try and continue his scoring streak. Neither of the Diegos, Chara or Valeri, were in the team, either. Sebastián Blanco was also left at home, as were Larrys Mabiala, Jorge Moreira, and Steve Clark. Playing full-strength teams for each match in this four-game, 12-day stretch that started last Wednesday was never going to happen. As it turned out, tonight’s game in Montréal is when the coaching staff hit the reset button.
“We have to do this rotation,” Savarese said. “It was very important. We still believe that we could have gotten a little bit more from this game, and now we have the guys there (in Portland) ready to be able to battle this weekend.
“It was important. We couldn’t play four matches in two weeks, and especially traveling to Montréal.”
Modou Jadama and Eryk Williamson got their first Major League Soccer starts. Marco Farfan his first of the 2019 season, while Marvin Loría was in the XI for the second night in a row. Darion Asprilla started up top, Claude Dielna in central defense, while Jeff Attinella got another chance in goal. From Saturday’s win over Houston, only Loria, Renzo Zambrano and Julio Cascante kept their place in the starting XI.
“Overall, I thought the guys worked very well and they fought hard,” was Savarese’s assessment. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a point, which is at least what we wanted, but we saw a lot of good things from the players that are emerging and most likely going to give us a lot this season.”
Another player making his first start of the season (and his second in MLS) was Tomás Conechny, somebody approaching his one-year anniversary in Portland. Still on loan from San Lorenzo in Argentina, Conechny has been splitting his time between substitute appearances in Major League Soccer and minutes with Timbers 2.
On Wednesday, though, he got his MLS breakthrough. In the 53rd minute, with his team down 1-0, Conechny made the most of Cascante’s effort off a restart, getting his head to a bouncing layoff to beat the Impact’s Evan Bush from the edge of the six-yard box.
Cascante’s effort shouldn’t be overlooked, nor should his solid play since entering the lineup for the injured Bill Tuiloma. Still, this moment was all Conechny’s, with a kiss of the badge showing how much he’ll cherish his first with Portland.
The name Orji Okwonkwo
Beyond anything a Timbers player did tonight, what fans may remember most is the name Orji Okwonwko.
The young loanee from Serie A’s Bologna beat Dielna for his first goal, outpacing the veteran for an open shot inside the penalty area. It was Okwonkwo’s second goal, though, that’s likely to be seared into fans’ memories – a score that felt like a fatal blow to their victory hopes:
Sometimes, you just have to take your hats off. Coaches will undoubtedly talk to defenders about battling for the first ball, staying tighter to their men, or doing a better job of patrolling the space where that second ball fell. At the same time, there’s a point where you have give a player his due. At the point was tonight’s 66th minute.