A few weeks ago, Willamette Week ran a feature story on which Portland professional sports team was the area favorite. The consensus was that the NBA Trailblazers still held the hearts and minds of local fans, but that the MLS Timbers were quickly gaining ground. If the Timbers make it out of the first round of the playoffs, they’ll have a better playoff record than the Blazers have had since 2000.
The Timbers went into Seattle’s Century Link Field to take on the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the home-and-home Western Conference semi-final. It looked to be a slightly uneven match-up. The Sounders have made the playoffs the last five seasons; the Timbers have only been in the league three seasons, and were making their first MLS playoff appearance. Seattle has a number of players with playoff experience; Portland only a handful. And although the Timbers Army travels well to West Coast games, the great majority of the near 40,000 in attendance would be wearing blue and green.
Seattle and Portland are natural rivals. Both metro areas are similarly sized, both share much the same culture and climate, and they’re only about 200 miles apart. Many people (like me) have lived in both cities. When it comes to sports rivalries, there is, as one Sounders fan sign had it, a feeling deeper than hate. Games between the two teams are chippy affairs, with Seattle’s physical style trying to overpower the Timber’s ball control offense. The teams traded home victories this season, and some thought that experience and home field advantage would enable a Sounders victory. As it turned out, the game wasn’t even close.
The Sounders came out strong and hard, out-shot the Timbers 2 – 1, had 11 corner kicks to the Timber’s 1, and kept the ball 60% of the time.
The Timbers left Seattle with a 2 – 1 victory, and the game wasn’t as tight as the score might suggest.
Portland scored early in the first period, and you could almost see the air go out of Seattle, Another goal in the second half had Seattle throwing numbers forward, but they couldn’t crack the Timbers defense. It wasn’t until a long throw-in at the end of regulation enabled a Sounders score in the 90th minute. The four minutes of stoppage time saw Seattle throw everything they had at the goal, but the Portland 11 worked together and kept the equalizer out of the net.
Now Seattle has to travel to Portland and try to win a game in the least visitor-friendly stadium in MLS, packed to the literal rafters with the insanely rabid Timbers Army. Even if the Timbers end up with a tie, they still go through to the Western Conference final. As the saying goes, to get to the conference final would be great; to get there by beating Seattle: priceless.
The 2013 Timbers
As I’ve previously noted, the difference between this team and last year’s edition beggars belief. First-year coach Caleb Porter has repeatedly said that the job of the Portland Timbers Football Club is to bring home hardware, and the players have apparently bought into that. The team finished first in the Western Conference, and just missed winning the Supporters Shield by a point. The Cascadia Cup went to Vancouver, BC (!) this year, but I’m sure that only serves to motivate the team for next year. This looks like a team that’s not only making a run at the MLS Cup, but expects to win it.