It’s Soccer City’s time to shine.
The Portland Timbers have appeared in the MLS Cup twice before, but never on their home ground.
The Timbers, back from the brink of disaster, are once again at the pinnacle of Major League Soccer. Providence Park will be rocking, the Timbers Army will be going nuts, and hopefully, a whole ton of green smoke will be filling the skies above the stadium. Portland, a city that has suffered more than its share of tragedy and struggles over the last year, could certainly use the reinvigoration.
I am still stunned that the Timbers are in this game. Glad, but stunned nonetheless. Barely four months ago, I didn’t see that the team had any future with its current roster and that it was time for them to make sweeping changes in the coaching staff and the front office. On August 29, they were coming out of a stretch of games in which they had gone 1-1-5, including an embarrassing performance against archrival Seattle in which they surrendered six goals and a non-competitive loss to expansion side Austin. On that date, they turned around and beat Seattle 2-0 in Seattle. That victory became the first win in a stretch that would see them finish the season on a 10-3-1 run and a fourth place finish in the conference. The dominance displayed in the closing stretch of the season was truly something to behold.
Their playoff run has been equally incredible. Coach Giovanne Saveresse and his squad have used every means available to survive and advance. Have gimpy goalscorer? No problem, he’ll score two goals anyway. Missing your top two scoring threats? No problem, somebody else will deliver on the offensive end. The Timbers should have Sebastian Blanco on the pitch in at least some level of fitness this weekend, and Dairon Asprilla returns from a red card suspension. Adding those two to a lineup that managed to win the conference final without them doesn’t seem to bode well for NYCFC’s chances in the championship match. That being said, the Timbers hoisting the cup at Providence park is not a fait accompli. NYCFC is an incredibly dangerous side.
They lead the league in shots and shots on target during the regular season and will undoubtedly do everything they can to keep up the pressure on Portland’s defense. Even though the home field advantage will be mitigated just a little by MLS rules mandating a larger ticket allotment to the visiting side during the championship, one would figure the Portland faithful will be doing everything in their power to make life difficult for the visitors. If NYCFC can strike early, they can quiet the crowd and put the Timbers on the back foot. The Timbers came from behind only twice this year to win a match (one of which was against Minnesota in the playoffs), so an early goal would go a long way toward bolstering NYCFC’s hopes.
That being said, it’s difficult to envision the Timbers not getting the fairy tale ending here. The team is playing out of its mind right now, and they have one of the best home field advantages in North American professional sports. They have the playmakers on offense, and the defense has settled during their late run of success.
If they can keep their head on straight, not give NYCFC early opportunities, and not let off the gas pedal, this game and a title are easily within their grasp. Wet sloppy conditions are either going to tamp down scoring if the two sides are content to probe for weaknesses or are going to lead to plentiful opportunities for both sides with the ball skidding across the pitch. I’m going to believe the latter will be the case this weekend.
There will be a party in Portland, and no one will be sleeping Saturday night because the Timbers will win the league (this year!) with a 3-2 victory.