The hugely impressive Timbers tribe will be backing Portland all the way
It has been a difficult season for Portland Timbers. Injuries and suspensions to key players, as well as indifferent form throughout the roster, has seen the team on the cusp of missing out on the MLS playoffs. It came down to a decisive final day showdown with San Jose Earthquakes, who needed a positive result in order to keep their own playoff hopes alive. Timbers fans arrived in their droves to Providence Park, more in hope than expectation. Brian Fernandez was missing through suspension and integral playmaker Diego Valeri was once again sidelined with a troublesome calf problem.
In a nervy first half, the Timbers broke the deadlock through Larrys Mabiala, only to see San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski level matters before half time. With a draw nowhere near good enough for either side, second-half fireworks were virtually guaranteed. Fortunately for Portland, all of the Fireworks were at their offensive third of the pitch. Second-half strikes from Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco were enough to see the Timbers over the line 3-1 and into the playoff spots.
Three consecutive MLS playoffs for Portland
It was a defiant display of character and determination from the Timbers, who were without a league win in five matches going into the decider. Portland are still very much outsiders when it comes to MLS Cup futures markets, with only FC Dallas considered by most sportsbooks to have less of a chance than Portland to reach and prevail in November’s final. They have been paired to face Real Salt Lake in their third successive playoff appearance, which will be good news for the Timbers roster. That’s because they have twice defeated Real Salt Lake already in 2019 and have previous success winning away in Salt Lake under coach Giovani Savarese.
A “proud” achievement for Savarese’s men
Savarese himself has recently remarked on what a “difficult season” it has been for his side “in so many ways”. With so many injuries and adversity, Savarese insists he is “more proud than ever” that the team has had the willpower to qualify for the playoffs against the odds. Thankfully for Savarese, the fans and the team, now that the playoffs are upon them the slate is wiped well and truly clean. Forget their indifferent regular season form, the Timbers know they can beat Salt Lake on their own turf. If – and it’s still a big if – they can get past Real, the mouth-watering prospect of a rematch with the Seattle Sounders lies in store.
All hopes rest on the Timbers’ Argentine duo
The playoffs could be Diego Valeri’s Portland swansong
Fans will be crossing everything in the hope that leading scorer Diego Valeri is fit enough to play his part in the playoffs. The Argentine schemer, who has an impressive five goals and six assists to his name in 18 appearances in 2019, could be entering the final few games of his Timbers career given the uncertainty surrounding his contract. In some ways it is understandable that the club’s hierarchy would be nervous about making Valeri one of their three Designated Players in 2020, given that he’s turning 34 next summer. On the flip side, Valeri has become a Portland icon, and is approaching 200 competitive appearances in a Timbers jersey. In that time, he’s averaged almost a goal every three games from an advanced midfield position. Valeri’s fitness could be key to upsetting the form book and making a genuine tilt for the MLS Cup.
Valeri’s Argentine compatriot, Brian Fernandez, appears to be his long-term successor as Portland’s star man. With 11 goals in 19 appearances since arriving from Mexican giants Necaxa, Fernandez is already justifying his $12 million price tag. However, his off-field battles with substance abuse have seen him voluntarily seek help; help that could keep him sidelined for the upcoming playoffs. Nevertheless, if Savarese can get both Fernandez and Valeri back in action for the upcoming playoffs, the Timbers could be dangerous opponents for anyone, given that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.