Everything to gain in West Coast trip to Portland for 2014 MLS season opener

Union fueled for challenge of opening 2014 campaign in Portland

 

Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers

When: Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Where: Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 

TV: Comcast Sports Net with play-by-play from JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas

Radio: None; Online: Streaming video via MLS Live

Social: Follow all the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday; Game notes (PDF): Click here

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It's hard not to get hyped for this one.

A season opener, on a Saturday night, played in one of the best atmospheres in Major League Soccer.

It also happens to be one of the most difficult road trips of the year, against one of the league's best teams.

Portland is stout at home, losing just twice in 21 games at Providence Park last season. That includes the MLS regular season, the playoffs, and the U.S. Open Cup.

The Timbers finished 19-8-15 across all three of those competitions.

With a forecast of 54 degrees, plus rain, you'd think there are more ideal places to open the campaign.

But the Union knew the trip was on the calendar and the challenge is relished.

"I have no problem with it," said manager John Hackworth. "I think the pressure is more on them. They're playing in front of their home crowd. I think we're a good team, and we're prepared, and we're ready to go in there. We know they're a good opponent and we respect them a lot, but we're not going in there with the idea that we're not coming away without a result."

In five years as a franchise, this will be the fourth time Philadelphia has opened the season on the road.

Philadelphia is 1-3-0 all-time in season openers and has yet to beat Portland in four tries.

In two games at Portland, the Union has been on the losing end of 3-1 and 1-0 results. 

Second year coach Caleb Porter has installed a fluid and attacking structure that clicked immediately, taking the club all the way to the semifinals of the playoffs in 2013.

"They're a dangerous team, they've obviously been coached well for the last year, and they're even stronger now," said goalkeeper Zac MacMath. "They've got a couple of dynamic players that they've added over the past year or so. We know they're a good team, a team that we're going to have to stay disciplined against , and we'll have to give it our best effort."

"I think Caleb does a good job, no question," said Hackworth. "They had a great year last year. I think they've added some good pieces, similar to us, and that's going to be a little bit of a question mark for us - how do the new pieces that we've added this year, how do they come together in a short amount of time? How does that look on opening day?"

You might recall the Union's season opener in 2012, which was also played in Portland.

Despite going with five new starters and slogging through the rain, the Union actually scored first before falling to a 3-1 defeat.

The field was smaller back then. Portland expanded the surface last season, adding two yards of width to each side of the field

The difference was noticeable, with more room for flank play among midfielders and fullbacks.

Take the field improvements, and combine them with the experience of that 2012 game, and you have what looks to be a better overall chance to compete on Saturday night.

"Obviously we know it's gonna be a cold one," MacMath said. "It's probably going to rain and we need to be ready for that. I thought we played pretty well in that game (in 2012), but there were a couple of bad goals that we let up. We left with zero points, but I think we'll take a lot from that experience and hopefully bring it into this year."

In regards to the season opener at a then Jeld-Wen Field in 2012, Hackworth added. 

"There were a few guys here who went through that process." "We've tried to keep the focus on getting our guys ready for this year. Portland's a different team, and we're a different team. We'll hopefully learn some lessons from that game, but that was two years ago."

Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com