The Portland Timbers have qualified for the MLS playoffs for the first time ever. Their first game in the Western Conference Semifinals will either be at Seattle or Colorado on Saturday, November 2nd at 7:00PM on the NBC Sports Network. The second leg of the aggregate series will be at Jeld-Wen Field the following Thursday. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is MLS’ Playoff Format? – Portland is the number one seed in the Western Conference. The number four and five seeds from both the West and East play a one-game, midweek Wild Card. The winner advances to the Conference Semifinals. Both the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals are two games, one game hosted by each team, with the higher seed hosting the latter game. The scores of both games are combined, with the team scoring the most goals winning. In the event of a tie, away goals is the first tiebreaker. If both teams have scored the same amount of away goals, the second game will go to extra time and if need be, penalty shots. MLS Cup is the final; a standalone game played at the venue of the team with the better regular season record.
Are The Games On TV? – Yes. NBC, the NBC Sports Network, ESPN or ESPN2 will broadcast all of the MLS playoff games. Some of the games on NBCSN will simulcast local broadcasts, with the NBCSN telecast blacked out in teams’ local markets. For instance, Seattle’s Wild Card game against Colorado on Thursday will be shown only on ROOT Sports in the Northwest area, but on NBCSN in the rest of the country, excluding the Denver area.
Who Will The Timbers Play? In the Western Conference semifinals, the Timbers will play the winner of the Seattle – Colorado Wild Card game. That contest is at 7:00PM Wednesday, October 30th at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. If the Timbers win their first playoff series, they will play the winner of the LA – Real Salt Lake West Semifinal in the Western Conference Final. If Portland makes it to the MLS Cup Final, they will play the winner of the Eastern Conference.
Who Will Portland’s Penalty Order Be? – If it comes to penalties, we have a good idea who Caleb Porter’s five could be. Diego Valeri, the king of panache, will surely take one, provided he’s on the field. He hasn’t missed all year. Will Johnson has also taken on penalty duty with great aplomb this year; he’d be in the five. The experienced Jack Jewsbury, who took penalties in Portland’s first MLS season, would most likely be in the order. Darlington Nagbe would presumably take one, though he’s never attempted a penalty in MLS. Don’t be surprised if Futty Danso was to take a shot; Futty was a forward earlier in his career, and he scored a super penalty against Moralia in a highly-charged friendly this year at Jeld-Wen. Other candidates: Urruti, R. Johnson, Piquionne.
Have Any Timbers Players Been Here Before? – Not really. Especially not in the attack, where only Ryan Johnson has played in the MLS playoffs. At the back, things are a little more encouraging experience-wise. Portland’s fullbacks, Jack Jewsbury and Michael Harrington, both played in the playoff with the old Kansas City Wizards, and Donovan Ricketts was LA’s goalkeeper when they made their run to the MLS Cup Final in 2009. Ricketts’ side lost to Will Johnson’s RSL, and the Captain is the Timbers’ only current player to have ever won MLS Cup.
What Are The Timbers’ Injury Concerns? – Besides season-ending injuries, the Timbers come into the playoffs relatively healthy. Maxi Urruti, who is struggling with a hamstring problem, is the only starter whose status is up in the air for the playoffs. Diego Valeri is still not 100%, but recent results would suggest he is doing just fine.
Who Do The Timbers Want To Play/Avoid? – Portland plays the winner of the Seattle – Colorado Wild Card game in the first round, and the Timbers must want the Rapids. Portland has been good against Colorado this year, drawing the Rapids in Colorado in the third game of the season in March 2-2, and beating them twice at home in two very different ways. In June, the Timbers cakewalked over the Rapids to a 3-0 win and in September, they grinded out a 1-0 result. Colorado’s overwhelming youth could play into the hands of Portland’s veteran back-line. The Rapids are also the only team in the west – besides Portland – with little to no playoff experience.
A series with Seattle is a proposition one cannot fully lay into until it’s a certainty that it is happening. The potential magnitude is that big. The rivalry has never been hotter, courtesy of the Timbers’ steamy 1-0 win over Seattle at Jeld-Wen just a few weeks ago, and the Clint Dempsey signing, which rankled the Timbers’ brass and support. You have to worry about players and fans keeping their respective heads and, well, the two cities not going to war. More than any of that though, you’d worry about losing. If Portland loses to anyone else in these playoffs, it’s fine. This is just year one of the Caleb Porter era, the Caleb Porter process. But if you lose to Seattle? It would be hard to recover from.
On the field, it’s been desperately close to call this year. One win, one draw, and one loss for each side. The last two games have been physical, larger-than-life encounters, with Seattle becoming temporarily insane in Portland, and Pa Kah suffering the same fate at CenturyLink Field. Portland has a hard time scoring in Seattle – only two goals ever, both were headed goals, and one was in stoppage time. In this potential matchup, goals would most likely be extremely hard to come by. It’d be quite the coaching matchup as well. For neutrals, this is the matchup you most want to see. For supporters it’d be almost unbearable.
As much as logic says Portland doesn’t want to play LA in a potential West Final, the Timbers aren’t at all afraid of the Galaxy. Despite Los Angeles’ pedigree of two-time defending champions and their big game, big-player chops, Portland has gotten the better of the Galaxy to the tune of two wins and a draw this year. In two wild games at Jeld-Wen, Portland won with last second controversy, and the Galaxy are well wary of Portland, Oregon. The Timbers match up decently with the Galaxy, and Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan haven’t scored against the Timbers this season.
And yet, you just get the feeling that Los Angeles doesn’t really start playing until the playoffs. They won MLS Cup last year by going through the Wild Card game, and there is no team that is more clutch in the league. There’s a reason LA is America’s preeminent team. The Timbers won’t be afraid of the Galaxy, but it’s possible that they should be.
Portland’s other potential conference final matchup, Real Salt Lake, is the toughest one. RSL has had Portland’s number this year. They’re the only team in the West to have a winning record against Portland. Salt Lake knocked the Timbers out of the US Open Cup, they gave them their most lopsided loss of the year at the Rio Tinto Stadium in August, and they held Portland to two draws at Jeld-Wen.
Salt Lake’s possession game upsets Porterball and takes the Timbers out of their rhythm. RSL’s midfield has consistently overrun Portland’s, and Real has more goal-scoring pop. Portland getting the number one seed was huge because it guaranteed the Timbers wouldn’t play RSL in the first round. This matchup isn’t hopeless by any stretch for the Timbers, but it’d definitely be the biggest ask. I’d venture to guess the Timbers are rooting for LA in the back of their collective, highs-lows, lows-highs minds.
Can The Timbers Host The MLS Cup Final? – If Portland makes it to the final and plays Houston, Montreal, or New England, they will host the final at Jeld-Wen Field. If Portland plays New York or Sporting Kansas City in the final, they will be the away team.
Who Is The Timbers’ Starting 11? Ricketts, Harrington, Futty, Kah, Jewsbury, Chara, W. Johnson (C), Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe, Urruti
Notes: Portland’s back-four shutout each of the West’s playoff teams in either September or October, and the current group hasn’t given up a single home goal.
Urruti’s fitness is a question. It’s a tossup who plays if he’s not fit. Porter likes Jose Valencia, who has gotten the nod recently, Ryan Johnson is the Timbers’ best goal-scorer up top, and Frederic Piquionne is the best player. We’ll see.
Who Is On The Timbers’ Bench? – Kocic, Jean-Baptiste, Zemanski, Alhassan, Piquionne, Valencia, R. Johnson
Also in contention: Zizzo
Most likely, one of the Timbers’ four forwards will miss out on the squad entirely, probably through injury.
Alhassan is the super-sub, and one of the forwards will come in as well. Zemanski will play if Portland wants to play defensive for any reason.
Are Timbers Fans Terrified Of Winning? – No. This article on ESPNFC.com would be laughable if it wasn’t so misguided and wouldn’t be paid attention if it wasn’t on such a big publication.
So, Can The Timbers Win This Thing? – They have a real good shot. Portland hasn’t lost a game since August, and they’ve only conceded goals in one of their last six games. The Timbers’ only loss of the year with both a healthy Will Johnson and Diego Chara on the field came in the second game of the season in March. The Timbers beat all four Western Conference playoff teams in the last two months of the season.
Portland’s uncanny ability to manufacture draws will be a huge help on the road in the playoffs, and the Timbers’ season-long formula of keeping games close, tying on the road and winning at home is conducive to playoff success.
The Timbers have a fantastic coach, some star individuals, and a tightly knit team that is on the best form of any side in MLS. In other words? Believe, Rose City.