If Caleb Porter was right, and the playoffs did start Saturday night, the playoffs won’t be much trouble for the Portland Timbers.
With the Western Conference title on the line, the Timbers dismantled a pitiful Chivas USA side 5-0, their most emphatic MLS victory ever, and a loud exclamation point on a season that has defied the limits and awed the odds.
Portland was awesome. Whether that has more to do with the Timbers or their opponents, you can’t be sure, but the Portland’s mastery of the game was such that the team was just scoring for fun as the minutes fell away in the second half. It was a blissful sort of calm before the playoff storm, one that you can’t help but feel the Timbers deserved after their hectic run-in.
We knew all along that this game was a matter of Portland v. Portland; if the Timbers played up to their potential they would cut through Chivas like a knife through hot butter. And sure enough, the Timbers started the game with intent and focus. The game was won in the first five minutes – the Timbers’ mentality was spot-on.
If Chivas can’t drag their opposition into the pits of soccer misery with them, they know they don’t have any chance at points. Theirs was a meek surrender when Portland came out firing.
The Timbers relaxed and played the game with ease and a passive fluidity, the beautiful game, a potent brand of Porterball.
Diego Valeri opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a well-taken goal off a net-mouth scramble, but his second was simply sublime: A stop-start chip from 20 yards that was as pretty as it was effortless. The master at work.
Valeri’s fitness is key for the playoffs, he’s just the most magisterial of players. The game comes so naturally to Valeri, watching him amongst average MLS players is something akin to soccer therapy. Valeri must be happy with how well his move to America has gone, both off the field and on it. His performance Saturday night – in one half, no less – sealed the MLS Newcomer Of The Year Award.
It was good that Valeri only had to go 45 minutes, as he was involved in Portland’s third goal before halftime. A well-taken long ball from Futty Danso was cut inside by Valeri, who nut-megged Carlos Bocanegra with a pass that was turned in on the doorstep by a lively Rodney Wallace.
In the second half, it was more of the same. Ryan Johnson scored a goal off a rebound, and Will Johnson slammed in a free-kick to make it five. Four of Portland’s five top goal-scorers got on the score-sheet. Everyone got in on the fun, there was even a fine save from Donovan Ricketts towards the end, and another clean-sheet for Portland’s defense.
It was a sumptuous day, one whose aftertaste could linger forever in the mouths of Timbers fans. To win the West with such style, it couldn’t have been written better. There is reality on Earth, but that can be lost for a night.
Porter, who has to be considered the odds-on favorite for MLS Coach of the Year, was lying when he said that the playoffs started on Saturday. He knew as well as any that beating Chivas would simply consist of wanting to beat Chivas, and his team was capable of that.
No, the playoffs start on Wednesday. Portland will face the winner of the Western Conference’s wild card game, either Colorado, LA, or Seattle. They avoid Real Salt Lake, for the time being, the only team in the league Portland was worse than head to head this year.
The Timbers have set themselves up for a shot at glory. And who better than Portland to win MLS Cup? The Timbers have the best defense in the league right now, and young legs up front that the playoff grind will only strengthen. They have the best coach in MLS this year, the best home-field advantage, and a whole lot of confidence.
To say Portland has a punchers chance at MLS Cup would be underselling this team’s prowess, which tonight was underlined more than any other this year. The Timbers can win this thing. They won the West, and while they won’t win the Supporters’ Shield, you can’t tell me that Portland wasn’t the best team in the league this year.
All due respect to New York and Sporting Kansas City, but the Eastern Conference schedule was a muffin basket compared to the West schedule that the Timbers played. And style points, anyone?
Just think back to last year, the animosity, the uncertainty, the distrust and anger from fans towards management. Now fast forward to Saturday night, when the Timbers Army dominated the near-vacant StubHub Center, providing an atmosphere and added incentive for the boys in green, a team completely united with their support.
Many people would like to see MLS go to a European style, single-table system without a playoff. Those people may be right. But I’m just glad we get to see the 2013 Portland Timbers take the pitch at least twice more this year.