PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Kevin Molino credited his offseason training back home in Trinidad and Tobago for his fast start.
Molino scored two goals and Minnesota United beat the Portland Timbers 3-1 on Sunday night in the season opener for both teams.
Molino’s first goal in the 51st minute came after a scoreless first half. Luis Amarilla’s header put the Loons ahead 2-1 in the 76th minute before Molino’s second goal some two minutes later.
“This offseason I focused a lot on fitness,” Molino said. “Back home I was working with a trainer, so I worked quite well with my fitness and I continue to work hard with my team, work hard in training, and the rest is going to take care of itself.”
Diego Valeri scored on a penalty kick for the Timbers, embarking in their 10th season in Major League Soccer. The Timbers went 14-13-7 last season, good for sixth in the Western Conference, but they were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by Real Salt Lake.
“We have to be, obviously, better in how to manage those moments where we are creating and try to reduce the danger on counters,” Valeri said.
Minnesota went 15-11-8 last season for fourth in the West but the team was also eliminated in the opening round by the LA Galaxy.
Yimmi Chara, the younger brother of longtime midfielder Diego Chara, started for Portland, as did his brother. Yimmi Chara had a left-footed attempt in the 30th minute that was easily stopped by Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
After two seasons with LAFC, Miller takes over in goal this season for Minnesota in place of 2019 Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone, who went to a Danish club in the offseason.
“Good player, I think he did well,” Molino said about Miller’s debut.
Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark dove to deflect Molino’s shot in the 28th minute, but United was offside.
“I thought we started a little bit slow,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “Our ball retention wasn’t the best the first 10-15 minutes, and we weathered a couple of opportunities from them. But once we weathered the storm I thought we were more than capable of catching them on the break, on the counterattack. And I did say to them, if we don’t concede any more, we can win this game.”
Minnesota finally broke through early in the second half when Clark came out for the ball but Molino picked it up and popped it easily into the goal. Molino had three goals and four assists in 17 matches last season coming off a torn ACL in 2018.
Portland drew even some five minutes later on Valeri’s penalty kick. Valeri had eight goals and 16 assists with the Timbers last season.
The Timbers were able to sign Valeri, the 2017 league MVP, in December after failing to agree on a contract extension with the midfielder last season. One of the team’s most popular players, he wore the captain’s armband for the opening match.
Just a minute after Valeri’s PK, Clark saved what could have been a go-ahead goal from Minnesota’s Robin Lod.
Amarilla, who was the leading scorer in Ecuador’s top league last season, headed in a cross from Ethan Finlay to give the Loons the lead. Molino scored his second in the 78th minute, also off a Finlay assist, stunning the home crowd at Providence Park.
“Difficult place to play,” Molino said. “In Portland the fans get involved the game and I think we dealt with it well as a team and to get a 3-1 victory in Portland, that’s a big win for us.”
Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said the team needed to maintain the control it had in the opening half, when the Timbers dominated possession.
“Those moments we need to be in control the way we did in the first half. It is unfortunate because as I said, the team did very, very well, and in the second half, unfortunately, we allowed those moments and the game changed completely,” Savarese said.
Polish striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda, signed by Portland as a Designated Player in the offseason, was still recovering from a knee injury and not available.