Champions League Adventure Begins For Timbers

Group 5 play underway as trip to Guyana looms in under 2 weeks
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, August 08, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

While the festivities surrounding the MLS All-Star Game was hitting their peak in Portland on Tuesday night, the next chapter of the Timbers’ season was beginning in a cricket stadium on the edge of South America.

The CONCACAF Champions League started its 2014-15 campaign on Tuesday with 4 group stage matches. One MLS team was in action, as Montréal defeated CD FAS of El Salvador 1-0 in Stade Saputo.

But the match that was of most interest to the Timbers took place in the outskirts of Georgetown, Guyana. That’s where Honduran champions Olimpia held on to a 1-0 win over Alpha United in Providence Stadium. Alberth Elis scored in the 17th minute on a deflected ball that just snuck in the goal, and the visitors made it hold up.

Olimpia and Alpha United are part of Group 5 along with the Timbers, so the Honduran club has a crucial head start on Portland, while Alpha United will be in need of a win when the Timbers visit on August 19.

That visit will be the true beginning of Portland’s CCL adventure. The team will fly to Guyana from Boston, as the Timbers play at New England on August 16. The number of flights it will take, and the length of time for those flights to get to Guyana, will likely take its toll on the Timbers before they arrive.

Portland has an unusual schedule for the CCL, but one that was made out of necessity. All matches are on Tuesday nights, following a Saturday MLS match. The first two matches, the trip to Guyana and the home match against Olimpia on September 16, follow MLS road trips. The last two, the home match with Alpha United on September 23 and the trip to Tegucigalpa to play Olimpia on October 21, follow home MLS matches but have long road trips following.

In a sense, it’s a schedule that really isn’t much different when compared to Champions Leagues in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. But having all matches on Tuesdays, instead of a mix with Wednesday nights, makes this schedule a bit different.

While the Timbers have never played in a continental competition, there are players on the club who have that experience. Will Johnson was a big part of Real Salt Lake’s run to the CCL final in 2011, while Diego Chara, Gastón Fernández, Diego Valeri and Norberto Paparatto have played in South America’s top two competitions, the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. Maxi Urruti also has Copa Libertadores experience, while Liam Ridgewell played in the UEFA Cup while at Birmingham City. Donovan Rickets played in the CCL while he was in Los Angeles, as did Danny O’Rourke when he was in Columbus and Andrew Weber when he was in Seattle.

That experience will be vital as the Timbers start their trek into the unknowns of continental play, and the two road trips will be vastly different. Alpha United’s home field, Providence Stadium, is primarily a cricket stadium. That means the center of the field will be very hard and bare in stretches, as that’s where the cricket pitches are laid out. The outer parts of the field are quite green, as that’s the cricket outfield. Being a cricket stadium, the seats will also be well away from the field. It holds 15,000, but if the size of the crowd on Tuesday is any indication, that won’t be much of a factor, either.

A completely different experience awaits Portland when they head to Honduras in October. The Estadio Tiburcio Carías Andino in Tegucigalpa is one of the country’s two national stadiums, holding 34,000. Olimpia has some of Honduras’ more passionate fans, as it is one of the traditional powers in the Liga Nacional. As with any trip for an American team to Central America, the Timbers’ welcome will likely be hostile, loud and unrelenting, while the weather likely will be very warm.

But Olimpia surprisingly doesn’t have a good home record against US teams in recent years. They lost to DC United (twice), San Jose and Los Angeles in the old CONCACAF Champions Cup, and their only win at home over an American team was in 1985, when they defeated the US Open Cup champions, Chicago Croatian, in the first round of the Champions Cup. Alpha United, on the other hand, has never played an MLS club.

But Portland will be a very different environment for Olimpia and Alpha United, as well. Playing on turf will be very different, the Timbers Army will be full voice and Providence Park will look, and feel, completely different than any place they’ve played in the past. It will feel much more closed in than Estadio Tiburcio Carías Andino or Providence Stadium feel, mainly because of the roof and central location.

So the last prize from the 2013 season, the CONCACAF Champions League, is about to begin. If the Timbers can win Group 5, then their 2015 season will start earlier than usual because of the CCL knockout stage. As the current form may make another CCL trip a distant dream, this is the one chance for Portland to make a big impression on a more widespread stage.

But the Timbers must take it one step at a time. And that first step will happen on a warm, humid night in a cricket stadium on the edge of South America.

NEXT UP: August 9 – Portland Timbers vs. Chivas USA, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 10:30 p.m. EST, KPTV (Oregon/SW Washington), MLS Live.


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Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.