"A new era": Portland Timbers rout Colorado Rapids on Phil Neville's debut


The Phil Neville era is off to a dream start in Portland.

Despite playing without four potential starters in Evander, Felipe Mora, Claudio Bravo and Maxime Crépeau for various reasons, the former Inter Miami CF manager began his Timbers tenure with a resounding 4-1, season-opening win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday evening.

A goal from USMNT midfielder Eryk Williamson (9’), then a brace from Brazilian winger Antony (14’, 29’), saw the hosts jump out to an early lead they would not relinquish. For good measure, Antony even forced a Sam Vines (45+5’) own goal just before halftime at Providence Park.

“I want the whole stadium full,” Neville urged, outlining his goals for the club in 2024. “I want the whole stadium going away from these football games thinking, ‘You know what, this is really exciting.’ Today was a little step forward. We've still got a long way to go.”

First-half onslaught

On his return from a second ACL surgery in as many years, Williamson scored the first goal of the new season for Portland with a late-arriving run into the box to finish off Juan Mosquera's cutback cross. Having suffered a left ACL tear in August 2021 followed by a right ACL tear in April 2023, Williamson was heavily limited in recent seasons and thus hadn’t netted a goal since May 1, 2021 – a span of 1,029 days.

“You couldn’t draw it up,” Williamson reminisced on his journey to that goalscoring moment. “I was super excited. You can see in the celebration.”

The floodgates had officially opened.

Five minutes later, Antony connected with a Cristhian Paredes cross for a thunderous header. The shot was behind Rapids goalkeeper Zack Steffen before he could even react. Fifteen minutes after his first goal, Antony scored again, running onto a through ball from Williamson, cutting inside his defender and curling a gorgeous effort past Steffen for a first-half brace.

Last year, Antony only played 251 minutes after being acquired midseason from Portuguese top-flight side FC Arouca. But the U22 Initiative player is soaring in 2024, all after becoming a father just over a week ago.

“I think it was a perfect way to show him how good it is to play football,” Antony spoke of his newborn son, “especially after scoring two goals.”

Brighter days

Things couldn’t get any better for the Timbers, right? Wrong.

Crépeau – the Timbers’ marquee offseason goalkeeper acquisition – is expected to return next Saturday against D.C. United (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) following the resolution of his green card process. Not far behind should be Evander, Mora, Bravo and Marvin Loría as they recover from injury.

On top of expected returns, Portland could see further player acquisitions with at least one Designated Player (DP) slot remaining open after Yimmi Chara and Jaroslaw Niezgoda departed this winter. The potential upside is palpable for the Timbers in 2024.

“We're almost resetting the culture in a way,” Neville said, describing the shift in Portland. “I felt tonight there was a different feeling to the whole stadium. It was almost like there was a reset. There was a freshness. This is a new era.”

New coach, new team, new era? At the very least, the Timbers are chasing a bounce-back season with a clear aim of reaching the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2021.

“We've done so much hard work over the last five to six weeks and we've still got so much work to do,” Neville remarked.

“I think if you look at the depth of our squad at this moment in time, it's nowhere near where it needs to be. It's a long season, it's a marathon and we're not getting carried away by today's result. We're pleased that it’s another step forward for this group.”