What’s Next For Portland After CCL Exit?

Frustration about whether Porter took CCL seriously erupt after Tuesday’s loss
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, October 23, 2014

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

Maybe the most frustrating match in a very frustrating season for supporters of the Portland Timbers happened on a steamy October night in Honduras.

The 3-1 loss to Olimpia in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday night knocked the Timbers out of the CONCACAF Champions League (thanks to CONCACAF’s head-to-head away goals rule), and set off a torrent of criticism on numerous fronts. The main complaint was about priorities, and whether Caleb Porter and others in the organization took the CCL seriously enough.

For many Timbers fans, Tuesday night was the most important match remaining in the season, not Saturday’s MLS regular season finale at FC Dallas. A win, draw or even a close loss would put Portland into the CCL quarterfinals in the spring, and could give the team something to build for during the offseason.

The FC Dallas match? Since the Timbers couldn’t control their own playoff destiny (the road loss at Toronto and last week’s home draw with Real Salt Lake ensured that), the prevailing opinion seemed to be that only a miracle could push Portland into the playoffs. Besides, Dallas also has much to play for, as a win would clinch third in the Western Conference and keep them out of next week’s play-in game.

But the starting lineup that Porter put out on Tuesday raised eyebrows. If this was an important match, why was the third-string goalkeeper (Jake Gleeson) starting instead of Donovan Ricketts? Why was Diego Valeri on the bench? When was the last time Danny O’Rourke started?

The start didn’t make things any better. Olimpia was ahead 2-0 after five minutes, and the Timbers were never really competitive after that. The one brief moment of hope after Ben Zemanski’s deflected goal in the 52nd minute was quickly squashed when Olimpia restored their 2-goal lead just two minutes later, and finished out the match 3-1 winners.

But the real fireworks came after the match, especially on Twitter. All the frustration, all of the anger that had built up during this season came out, and no one connected with the team, or those who cover it daily (and who weren’t even in Honduras), were immune. Being dumped out of the CCL was seen by many as a massive opportunity lost, and proof that the Timbers hadn’t taken the CCL seriously enough.

No one was happy. The Twitter spat between Merritt Paulson and whomever was running the Timbers Army account ended up making some national sports websites. To say that the aftermath was uglier than the game itself might be accurate. The official team Twitter account wasn’t even updated once the match ended until deep into Wednesday, something many noticed.

Was the CCL a priority? Paulson insisted in a tweet on Wednesday that it was, but Porter admitted after the match on Tuesday that he rested seven regulars specifically to have them ready for Saturday’s match at Dallas.

So, what’s at stake on Saturday? Even if the Timbers win, they have to hope that Vancouver doesn’t lose at home to a Colorado squad that is on a 13-match winless streak and last won on July 25. If Portland draws, then the Whitecaps have to lose for the Timbers to get in. Of course, the last home loss for Vancouver was on August 30, when Portland beat the Whitecaps 3-0.

The Whitecaps will also know what they need to do before the match with the Rapids is finished. The Dallas-Portland match starts 90 minutes before the Vancouver-Colorado match, meaning the Whitecaps will know sometime in the first half whether they are in the playoffs (if Portland loses), if they need just a point (if Portland draws) or if they need all three points (if Portland wins).

And that’s where the question of priorities comes up. Portland controlled their own destiny in the CCL, but needs to beat an FC Dallas squad looking for a better playoff position and get help from a team that hasn’t won in three months to qualify for the playoffs. Even if they make the playoffs, Portland would either play in Dallas again or travel to RSL, where success has been very limited, for the 4/5 game.

Did Porter sacrifice the CCL for a vague shot at the MLS playoffs? In his post-match comments on Tuesday, he said that he felt the lineup he put out against Olimpia could   get a result. But by admitting he rested seven so they could be fresh for the Dallas match, it left the impression that he may have.

Maybe it’s a good thing that the 2014 home schedule for the Timbers is done. If there was a home match this weekend, the reception for Porter may have been neutral at best and hostile at worst. He hasn’t lost the majority of supporters yet, but the grumblings are very loud about what has, and hasn’t, happened in 2014.

The grumblings were never louder than on Tuesday night. Being knocked out of the CCL was the final straw, as it triggered the release of the frustrations that had been simmering all season. Whether it was aimed at Paulson, Porter, Gavin Wilkinson (always a target) or the team, what has happened this season is seen as a major step back from 2013, when it seemed that Portland was on the verge of something big. The priorities of the club, especially this week, are now being questioned.

And that won’t change for a while, no matter what happens against Dallas.

NEXT UP: October 25 – Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas, Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Tex. 8:30 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW.

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