The Portland Timbers may not have the best record this season, but they have put the Major League Soccer community on notice. A club one year removed from a disastrous season, in which the team fired the head coach, ended up eliminated in the first round of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and finished two spots from last in the league, is now streaking on a 17 game (15 MLS games) unbeaten run. Through the stretch, the Timbers have walked away unscathed against a few top notch MLS teams, such as MLS Western Conference’s best FC Dallas twice and the back-to-back MLS Cup winning LA Galaxy, while seemingly not slowing down behind the coaching of first-year Head Coach Caleb Porter.
Coach Porter, a former MLS player whose career was shorted by knee injuries, is used to the taste of success. Before Porter’s start with the Timbers, he coached the University of Akron to an extraordinary record of 119-18-17, won an NCAA Division I Championship and was undefeated in the Mid-American Conference six straight seasons. Some wondered if his accomplishments could transfer, especially with the way the Timbers ended the 2012 season. But many critics have heard the horn and have started to get onboard the Timbers’ bandwagon. It took 16 long weeks and a record of (7-1-9), but MLSSoccer.com has finally placed the Timbers atop their weekly MLS Power Rankings proclaiming, “This is the best team in MLS.” Others are jumping on board; Yahoo!’s Power Rankings declared the Timbers as “Kings”. and the Timbers were also featured in USA Today this week.
The Timbers are also taking a new approach to the U.S. Open Cup as Coach Porter explained, “I wrote the [Timbers] a letter before I even met them,” Porter said, “and one of the things I talked about was that our goal is to win trophies here, plain and simple.” While the U.S. Open Cup isn’t as important to some MLS teams, Coach Porter has made it clear his intentions are to win it. The Timbers have made it handily past its first two foes, scoring seven goals to its opponent’s one goal, on its way to the quarterfinals where they’ll meet FC Dallas June 26th for a rematch of its two prior meetings (1-1).
While all of this deserved attention is a nice gesture, Coach Porter and his squad aren’t listening. The Timbers continue to march onto the pitch for battle each and every match as a gritty underdog, with their possession play and mental fortitude. If the Timbers can maintain this level of passion, no one will hold them back from hoisting the coveted MLS and U.S. Open Cups instead of just logs.
Matt Deems is on Twitter. Follow him at @MattDeems1