Season, Chance at Final on the Line for Portland

Timbers need 1st win vs RSL since 2011 on Sunday to advance to MLS Cup Final
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, November 22, 2013

John Hefti Photography - Portland Timbers

After a very long two weeks to think, recover and prepare, it’s all on the line for the Portland Timbers on Sunday night.

It’s good that they’ve scored three goals at home a few times this season. The bad is that if they can’t outscore Real Salt Lake by at least three goals on Sunday in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference Finals, or score twice and force a shootout, Portland’s amazing season comes to a quick end.

On seven occasions in 2013, the Timbers have scored three goals. Five of those came at JELD-WEN Field, including the opening night 3-3 draw with New York. Another was against RSL, the 3-3 draw on Aug. 21 in Portland that had Cole Grossman scoring with moments remaining to help the visitors snag a road point.

Four times, the Timbers won by three goals. Three of those happened in JWF, including 3-0 wins over Chivas USA on May 12 and Colorado on June 23. The third was a 4-0 triumph over Toronto on Sept. 7, and that included three goals in the last 10 minutes. The other big win was the 5-0 romp over the Goats at the StubHub Center in the Oct. 26 season finale. Portland also scored five times in their third round home win over Wilmington in the US Open Cup.

So, it’s possible. The Timbers have done this before. But never has the pressure been as high, or the stage as great, as what awaits Portland on Sunday. Beating the Seattle Sounders was one thing, but getting past RSL is a bigger challenge.

Only once have the Timbers defeated RSL since coming into MLS, and that came in their first meeting in 2011. Kenny Cooper scored in the 22nd minute to give Portland a 1-0 win on April 30, which was part of the stretch where the Timbers won their first five MLS home matches.

That’s it. RSL has a nine-match unbeaten run against the Timbers since that first meeting, including winning all three matches in 2012 and getting three wins and two draws so far in 2013. The 2013 run includes knocking Portland out of the US Open Cup in the semifinal stage and winning the first leg of the conference finals.

Those numbers mean that history isn’t on Portland’s side. That history also says that the Timbers haven’t made it out of a league semifinal since the 1975 team made it all the way to the NASL Soccer Bowl. Losses in 1978 (New York, NASL), 2007 (Atlanta, USL 1st Division) and 2009 (Vancouver, USL 1st Division) prevented Portland from playing for a title, and unless the Timbers take an axe to all of that history and beat RSL by at least two, this will be another playoff trip that stops short of getting a chance at glory.

One bit of good news during the time off has been the nomination of four Timbers for MLS’ end-of-season awards. Porter is up for Coach of the Year, Diego Valeri is a finalist for Newcomer of the Year, Donovan Ricketts is a Goalkeeper of the Year finalist (an award he won in 2010 while with the Los Angeles Galaxy) and Darlington Nagbe is among the final three for the Individual Fair Play award. The winners will be announced over the next two weeks leading up to the MLS Cup Final.

The time off has been used to refocus the Timbers, who have kept busy while the international break has taken place. Porter has been working on keeping his side sharp during the break, and included a mini-scrimmage as the match gets closer and final preparations are taken care of.

Portland will go into the match fairly healthy, with all players available. RSL does have a few injury issues, including listing Alvaro Saborio as questionable with a muscle strain that forced him to miss the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium. Chris Wingert will miss the second leg with a fractured rib and a pneumothorax after a collision with Diego Valeri in the first leg.

And whether RSL and Portland will be playing to host the MLS Cup Final will be known by time they walk onto the JWF turf. Sporting Kansas City hosts Houston in the second leg of the Eastern finals on Saturday, coming off of a scoreless first leg in Houston. If SKC wins, they host the Cup final. But if Houston wins, then the Portland-RSL winner will host the final. Thus, the stakes could be even higher once the match kicks off Sunday night.

History will be made on Sunday, one way or another. The Timbers’ season could become history, or they could pull off a comeback for the ages. The two-goal comeback has been done, of course, but only twice.

Whatever happens, it will add to what’s already been a stunning season for Portland. They just don’t want it to end, at least for one more week.

NEXT UP: November 24 – Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. 9 p.m. EST, ESPN, ESPN Deportes.


Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.