Last Match Recap
We finished last week’s preview with the line, “a point is possible, and would be enormous.” Well, how ‘bout a WIN?!
The game started off inauspiciously, as the Galaxy pushed from the opening whistle. Within 4 minutes, LA’s pricey vintage find, Steven Gerrard, was gifted a free kick in a dangerous position; the former Liverpool and England captain slammed his attempt off the crossbar/post junction. He would hardly be heard from again.
Robbie Keane’s stunning volley right before halftime—against the run of play—felt like the kind of gut punch from which the Timbers wouldn’t recover.
But they did.
This isn’t the reality where the Timbers follow their familiar, detrimental story arc; it’s the one where they hit back hard. Twenty minutes into the second half, Fanendo Adi collected Lucas Melano’s short cross and slammed it passed Donovan Ricketts to equalize.
Minutes later, Adi was dragged down in the box, and an MLS ref actually gave Portland a PK for a second consecutive match! The Nigerian completed his brace from the spot; his performance would earn him the title of MLS Player of the Week.
It got really fun after that. First, HOLY LEAPING CHARA, BATMAN!
Then, Robbie Keane pulled one back for LA, making it 3-2. Like we said, this isn’t the reality where Portland succumbs to any of their bad habits, it’s the one where Darlington Nagbe doesn’t even let LA finish gloating about their goal before leaving Omar Gonzalez and Donovan Ricketts in his dust en route to a 4th Portland goal.
Max Urruti added the cherry to this sweet Sunda(e)y, with the match finishing 5-2 for the Men in Green.
We weren’t the only Portlanders who saw a draw as best-case-scenario; what we got instead was a match that will forever be cemented into Portland soccer lore.
Consider this: we talk all the time about Portland’s “houses of horror”, the places in which, from day one, the Timbers have struggled. Day 1 was Colorado in 2011; that year, we were introduced more road hells: Dallas, Salt Lake, and LA. Game by game, year by year, Portland methodically crossed off venues from their danger list, leaving just the one: LA. We all remember July’s 5-0 drubbing down there, so if you don’t mind looking at the cap of this pen for just a second…
What does it mean?
We said that everyone would know where Portland stands following Salt Lake and LA, and we do—except we don’t. We’ll let MLS explain the playoff scenarios, since none of us have time for a thousand-word diatribe on the multitude of possible outcomes. In short, a draw is enough to get Portland into the playoffs, but the Timbers can finish anywhere from 2nd to 7th, based on results. The good news is: Portland controls it’s playoff qualification destiny, despite not knowing where they’ll end up. As much as the 6-point week helped the Timbers, they’re still not a lock for the post-season.
That’s the Western Conference.
The regular season finale, a home tie with last-place Colorado. This is a must-win. Why? Not because a draw won’t get Portland into the playoffs, but a win, and only a win, unlocks the dream scenarios of a possible first round bye or the chance to host a knockout-round game at Providence Park. If other results go the right way, a win could help knock Seattle out of the post-season. The Timbers will be without Diego Valeri, who was excellent on Sunday, but received a phantom yellow (the TV announcers missed it) for time wasting and is now forfeited due to card accumulation.
Water Cooler Numbers: 3 and 4
With Valeri suspended, the expected starting XI on Sunday features only 3 starters from the 2013 playoff team: Nagbe, Wallace, and Chara (Valeri makes 4). Those 3 are, of course, 3 of the 4 remaining 2011 Timbers (Gleeson).
With 3 points, the Timbers will finish with 4 fewer points than their 2013 counterparts, likely good enough for the 3 or 4 spot.
Opposing player to watch: Kevin Doyle
For a club that has scored a league-low 30 goals, Doyle has provided an injection of offense since his arrival stateside in May. In 18 appearances (14 as a starter), the Republic of Ireland international has scored 5 times, 4 of which in wins.
Timber to watch: Darlington Nagbe
Coming off one of his best games in 5 years as a Timber, Nags will be looked upon to step up in the absence of Diego Valeri. Portland needs to end the season emphatically at home after a couple of lackluster showings at Providence Park and the explosive future US International is just the man to propel the Rose City onward.