When the lineups came out prior to the Timbers 2 v. Newcastle United match, it was pretty clear that Steve McClaren had decided he had gotten as much as he could have out of the club's time in America. With a back line featuring a Defensive midfielder (Gael Bigirimana) at right back, a 19 year-old center back, a (backup backup backup) LB at center back and arguably our most exciting attacking talent at LB, the matter of earning a result on the night could not have been further from the coach's mind.
"[We had] six or seven players unable to play on the surface... dangerous... and we've had to cope with this game and the main thing is we've come out with no injuries so we're pleased about that," McClaren said following the match. It is no secret that McClaren was not thrilled with the tour of the United States. Whether that was in format, level of opposition, distance of travel we won't know, but it became pretty clear he was not a fan of ending the tour on a synthetic surface. Add in to that the fact that he was hoping to limit minutes for the likes of Papiss Cisse, Moussa Sissoko and Daryl Janmaat (to name a few) and you get a clear picture of exactly what Steve was looking to take away from Portland. "No injuries," he spelled out bluntly.
In light of that, there was very little to be taken away from this match before it even kicked off. Once the ball started rolling, it seemed like a cobbled together lineup designed to avoid injury was going to be immaterial. Newcastle started on the front foot and took advantage early with Rolando Aarons serving a beautiful cross into the T2 box that found Giorginio Wijnaldum who finished clinically to score his first goal for the club in his first start. After that point, T2 coach Jay Vidovich should have been equaling McClaren's levels of happiness as his team did what they should have done against the defense ahead of them.
If there were a takeaway from the match at all it is that on some level, problems that have haunted the club for years are still problems. While Karl Darlow may or may not have done enough to stay ahead of Freddie Woodman in the backup GK competition, it was our old friend the set piece that raised up and bit us again. And again. Two set piece goals and a follow-up finish had T2 up 3-1 at the half. In spite of a tremendous performance in not getting injured during the first half, the Toon Army were in great voice as they were afforded a rare opportunity to see their club in person, regardless of circumstance. In fact, they were boisterous enough to draw attention from Portland's Finest as halftime closed in.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">We legit have police around our section. I believe this is the last time the Toon Army will be at Providence Park. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/nufc?src=hash">#nufc</a></p>— Wish I Was A Geordie (@NUFC_US) <a href="https://twitter.com/NUFC_US/status/623695701885652992">July 22, 2015</a></blockquote>
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The second half brought an air of excitement to the match as Rolando Aarons struck for a quickfire brace in the 76th and 77th minutes, the first for a delicious overhead kick and the second from an excellent strike from 18 yards out. Newcastle were on the front foot for the rest of the match but were unable to find that fourth goal to salvage a result.
As a measuring stick for progress made installing the new coaching staff's ideas, this match was as useless as Sacramento had been helpful between the open training and the match against Sacramento Republic. We know where he is heading. "We're trying to just do things which create a culture and environment in the team. We're not saying it's any better than anybody else's just our culture and our environment. That's the way we want to play the game. When you play it and play it well, it's very good. When you play it and you don't play it very well, it can be very bad," said McClaren. The T2 match may not have been that great barometer of progress that we as Newcastle fans were hoping for. It did, however, pass McClaren's test for success. "No injuries."