PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – New season, same result.
Fanendo Adi scored in the 79th minute and the defending champion Portland Timbers defeated the Columbus Crew 2-1 on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup final.
The Timbers won that one 2-1, too.
All 20 MLS teams opened the league’s 21st season on Soccer Sunday. Portland kicked off the season by unveiling a championship banner hung in the rafters of the north end of Providence Park.
Diego Valeri’s first-half goal gave the Timbers the early lead until Federico Higuain’s highlight-worthy bicycle kick drew the Crew even in the 68th minute. Adi’s goal gave Portland its first March win since 2012.
“It’s good to get off to a good start. Three points. The sooner the better,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “Now we’ve got to get three points in the next one. I’m looking forward to being with these guys for the next 11 months, and 33 more games. There’s going to be ups and downs, but if we play like we did today, there will be more ups than downs”
Last season, the Timbers defeated the Crew in Columbus for the title. Valeri scored in the opening 27 seconds, Rodney Wallace added a second goal some 7 minutes later and Portland held on for the win.
It was Portland’s first title since joining the league in 2011.
“We showed today how hungry we are. We showed today that we picked up right where we left off, that last year wasn’t an anomaly,” Porter said. “We showed today that we can be even better. And I’m confident that we can.”
The Timbers took the early lead on Sunday on Valeri’s free kick in the 23rd minute that was misjudged by Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark, who was also in goal for Columbus for the MLS Cup match. Valeri had an earlier chance in the 19th minute but he was offside.
Columbus star Kai Kamara charged the goal in the 60th minute but keeper Adam Kwarasey made a diving save. Higuain’s stunning goal came 8 minutes later off an assist from Ethan Finlay.
“He’s talented, I’ll tell you what,” Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said about Higuain. “He’s a special player.”
This is the only regular-season meeting between the two teams this season. Portland now leads the series 3-2-2.
“We knew it was a special game, the first time after the trophy,” Valeri said.
The Timbers went 15-11-8 last season. Most of the team’s starters are back with the exception of Wallace, who is now playing with Arouca in the Portuguese Premier League.
The Crew also went 15-11-8 to finish second in the Eastern Conference, led by Kamara with 22 goals. Kamara’s total matched Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco for the league lead, but Giovinco earned the league’s Golden Boot award with more assists.
No MLS player has had back-to-back 20-goal seasons.
There was no announcement from the Timbers about the reported signing of young wing Jack Barmby from Leicester City’s system. The Oregonian this week reported the signing of the 21-year-old, who played for England’s Under-20 national team.
It was the 86th consecutive sellout for the Timbers at Providence Park. The Timbers Army supporters group sang the national anthem, per tradition.
“For us, it was a good opportunity,” Berhalter said. “If you play in a hostile environment, you get to see where you are right away. Like I said, we had intentions to come and control the game, and, for the most part, we accomplished that. I think we could have done a better job of controlling defensive transitions, limiting some of the damage there. But it’s a good mindset.