Mar 10, 2018; Harrison, NJ, USA; Portland Timbers forward Andy Polo (11) celebrates a goal against the Portland Timbers during the second half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
HARRISON, N.J. — Ben Mines wanted to make sure he was fully prepared for his Major League Soccer debut Saturday night.
That included his goal celebration.
“Thankfully my roommates were gone today so I had the room to myself so I could just try a couple of things out to see what worked out,” the 17-year-old said.
The celebration, dedicated to his mother, went just as he planned, as was opening night for the New York Red Bulls, who rolled out a largely reserve lineup in a 4-0 thrashing of the Portland Timbers in front of 18,374 at Red Bull Arena.
With a critical Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal clash against Club Tijuana on Tuesday, Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch used only two starters — goalkeeper Luis Robles and midfielder Sean Davis — from the side that won 2-0 at Estadio Caliente last Tuesday.
Robles extended his streak of 175 consecutive matches played for the Red Bulls, while Davis was featured because he is suspended on yellow card accumulation for the second leg.
Although the names were different, and the ages significantly younger, Marsch said the expectations were the same.
“The part that I’m happiest with is the fact that we played like us, we looked like us,” Marsch said. “There were different names on the back of the jerseys, but that looked like our team. That’s always our goal.”
The scoreline ruined a homecoming for Portland Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese, a legendary forward when the organization was called the MetroStars and someone who was a huge part of the New York area soccer scene for decades.
“For me it was an embarrassing match because at a point, we had the game in control,” Savarese said. “I think we could have won this match if we wanted to, and we allowed them to be able to get the better of it because they wanted it more. And when a team steps on the field wanting the game more, they deserve to win. For me, that was the key of the match.”
Mines scored the only goal the Red Bulls would need in the 18th minute and in doing so became the third youngest player in club history to find the back of the net, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, behind Eddie Gaven and Jozy Altidore.
The Homegrown midfielder made a back-post run and slid to latch onto a perfect cross from Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra to cap a pretty sequence that included a give-and-go between Derrick Etienne and Carlos Rivas.
Mines wasn’t sure what kind of goal would be his first, but that celebration — making a phone gesture with his hand — was for his mom.
“She always calls me before every game, she’s always been there for me and I’m truly grateful,” Mines said.
That Mines scored on his debut didn’t come as a surprise to Robles, who told the group in Florida last month that Mines was the best player in that part of preseason. Robles said it was an easy statement to make.
“We played three games and he scored three goals,” Robles said.
But to duplicate that under the bright lights of Red Bull Arena, in the club’s MLS opener, is another story.
“It’s incredible,” Mines said. “Just coming up through this amazing system, watching in the stands, watching these guys play and to finally get in the moment its incredible.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips came off the substitute’s bench in the 64th minute and continued his torrid pace to open the season with his fourth goal in his last three matches in all competitions in the 77th minute.
Three minutes later, Carlos Rivas, who arrived with Tommy Redding in the trade that sent former captain Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City SC, scored his first goal in a Red Bulls uniform. The 23-year-old Colombian added a second goal in the third minute of second-half stoppage time to put a bow on the impressive victory.
“I’m really, really happy,” Rivas said. “I felt really comfortable. The team looks great and my teammates gave me the support and made me feel very confident.”
Confidence is something the entire Red Bulls organization has right now. Marsch sent out a starting XI with the average age of 24.4, many of whom were players who have come up through the Academy system and Red Bulls II.
Marsch said it was clear the future is very bright. Judging by the way the Red Bulls have started the season so too is the present.
“This is not just happening now. This has been happening for three-plus years and it’s just a progression,” Marsch said. “This club will be set up for years to come, no question.”