Portland Timbers: A Team With a Rare Opportunity

Tuesday’s win over Olimpia puts Portland in prime position to win Group 5
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, September 18, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The Portland Timbers have their destiny in their hands.

Their CONCACAF Champions League destiny, at least. But they have to be careful.

Portland is now in full control of Group 5 in the CCL after a wild 4-2 win over CD Olimpia on Tuesday night in Providence Park. The win put the Timbers level on points with the Honduran champions in the group, but having played one less match.

With Alpha United coming to Portland next Tuesday, the Timbers have a chance to put themselves in a prime position to win the group and move on to the CCL knockout stages in the spring. A win over the Guyana side will have Portland 3 points up on Olimpia with only the trip to Tegucigalpa at the end of October left for this CCL stage.

A win next Tuesday would also mean that the Timbers wouldn’t need a win in Honduras to move on. While playing for a draw on October 21 isn’t ideal, that might be the best path to take with the MLS season finale at FC Dallas scheduled four days later. The FCD match could decide whether the Timbers make the MLS playoffs for the second straight year, depending on how the five matches between this week and October 25 work out.

One aspect of next Tuesday that plays into Portland’s favor is that Alpha United has little to play for. Their 6-0 loss at Olimpia on August 28 ended any faint hopes they had of winning the group and advancing. With a goal difference of -10, it feels like forever since Alpha United barely lost 1-0 to Olimpia in Guyana way back on August 5.

And that’s where Tuesday’s win over Olimpia is very important. The first tiebreaker on the CCL group stages is head-to-head points. Portland’s win gives them that advantage over Olimpia, and makes a possible 3-point lead going to Honduras feel a bit bigger than just 3 points.

But the second tiebreaker looms large. That is goal difference between the two clubs tied for first, and that’s a big reason why the four goals that the Timbers scored on Tuesday are so important. That’s also why the second goal that Olimpia scored, where Timbers goalkeeper Andrew Weber mishandled a free kick and allowed Romell Quioto to get an easy goal, could become big if Olimpia can get off to a fast start in next month’s match.

That also plays into the third tiebreaker, which is away goals in matches between Portland and Olimpia. If the Timbers lose 2-0 or 3-1 in Tegucigalpa, then Olimpia wins the group based on that tiebreaker. Without that second goal, the task ahead of the Timbers in Honduras would have been much, much easier. Instead, Olimpia still has hope that they can advance.

What’s the fourth tiebreaker, in case Olimpia defeats Portland by the same 4-2 score that was seen on Tuesday? Then it goes to goal difference for all group matches, and that’s where Portland needs to put a few goals in against Alpha United next week. Win by three goals or more, then the Timbers know that they have the one tiebreaker in hand, just in case it gets to that point.

Looking down the road, a bigger goal difference could also give Portland a higher seed in the championship stage, if the Timbers make it that far. Goal difference is the second tiebreaker CONCACAF uses in determining the seeding among the eight group winners, after points.

Of course, the side that Caleb Porter will likely put on the field against Alpha United next week may not be much different than what was seen against Olimpia. The Saturday before the CCL match features a visit from Vancouver in a massive match between the two clubs battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. After the Alpha United match is a trip to Toronto to play a TFC side that’s fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff spots and hasn’t won since August 9.

That means the likes of Diego Valeri, Donovan Ricketts, Darlington Nagbe and Liam Ridgewell likely will have the Alpha United match off. Other first-team regulars, such as Will Johnson and Rodney Wallace, may be on the 18, but might have limited playing time as Porter hopes to keep them fresh for the Toronto match. Fanendo Adi might also see a start, with Tuesday’s 2-goal scorer, Maxi Urruti, available for the second half depending on the situation.

Much like their current MLS playoff chances, the Timbers control their own destiny for winning Group 5 and making the championship stage of the CCL. A win on Tuesday, plus at least a draw on October 21, ensures that Portland will be playing very important matches in March. But a stumble on Tuesday, or the defense falling apart in Tegucigalpa next month, and the Timbers will let an incredible opportunity slip away.

It’s an opportunity that may not come around again for the Timbers for a very long time.

NEXT UP: September 20 – Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 5:00 p.m. EST, NBCSN.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
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.
RAY'S SPONSORS