There’s really not much left to say about the Portland Timbers’ Sunday game against Real Salt Lake. This is it! We’re here! May the best team win.
The Timbers need to outscore their opponents, like in a regular game, just a little more … emphatically. (If you’ve lost the plot in the past two weeks of radio silent MLS, RSL won the first leg of the playoff 4-2, which means that the Timbers have to win by at least 2 goals to trigger extra time and the possibility of a shootout. Win 3-0 and it’s over). This is within the realm of possibility, but will be difficult as RSL is very good.
Ok, enough summary, how about the game at hand. How to win? Well, score first and early and then score a bunch more would be the best maneuver – kind of like what the Timbers did to Seattle, only without almost drawing at the end. An early goal would be a psychological boon, and bring the margin to a reasonable aggregate deficit of one goal. The danger, of course, is that flying into berserk mode will let RSL play on the counter, which is their best bet in a hostile, high-stakes environment. They’re good enough to invite pressure and take opportunities as they come, so the Timbers both need to score early and have to be measured in their play. If they let RSL score first the task becomes Herculean.
The thing is, admitting the obvious fact that everyone who follows the Timbers desperately want them to win this, the season is already a huge win. The team, and the city, is going to be proud no matter the outcome of the weekend’s game. A remarkable foundation for future success has been built, and it’s gone up real fast.
As has been noted ad nauseam, there has been huge progress both on the Timbers pitch and off it, and it’s paying huge dividends. The milestones just keep coming. Forbes just released their ranking of the MLS’ most valuable franchises, and after just three years in the top flight, the Timbers are sitting pretty at number three. The top two are LA and Seattle, and Portland finished this season above both of them in the conference table. Obviously, both of them are much larger markets and have longer tenures in the league. To top it off, Portland’s operating income actually betters LA’s: $9.4 to $7.8 million. I feel like I need to clear my throat. This is the mighty LA Galaxy we’re talking about, former home to noted underwear model David Beckham. The LA Galaxy, glamour club of the States, would-be retirement consort of English dullard Frank Lampard! Bride of ill-tempered Robbie Keane! Landon Donovan’s homeroom when he’s not on sabbatical. And the Timbers have a leg up …
Of course when dwelled upon, the financial world of professional soccer has a way of dulling the splendor of the spectacle at hand. The beautiful game – the style and personality, the history – can seem like sleight of hand, a corporate bait and switch: giant revenue is being collected, the real business is going on elsewhere (everyone is looking at you, NYCFC. We hate you already). A fan wants her team to win and that takes money, but she also wants her club to human, to be a part of a comprehensible culture, preferably the kind that has nothing to do with oil barons, oligarchs or debt leveraged buy-outs, which is where the sport is in much of the world. In the Timbers, we seem to be getting it both ways. A good team getting better. An authentic, and passionate, organization that is doing good business and competing with the big boys. It’s cool. Let’s hope it lasts a long time.