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Three Questions from the Timbers’ Elimination Round Win over SKC

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot to soccer.

There are formations and tactics. There is technique and athleticism. There are players and there are coaches and there are general managers and there are owners.

And then there are experiences like Thursday at Providence Park.

Those are the ones that stick with you.

Here are three questions from the Portland Timbers’ unforgettable win over Sporting Kansas City:

1. Is there anything to say after that?

Not really.

Some results, some games, are just that improbable. Just when it looked like the Timbers had Sporting KC on the ropes, Graham Zusi whips a beautiful ball into the box that finds Kevin Ellis for the equalizer.

And from there, despite mustering only one shot on frame in the first 87 minutes of the game, the Wiz took command and, in the 96th minute, took an unsurprising lead on another moment of brilliance from Kristin Nemeth - who arguably should have been sent off in the 75th minute when he kicked the ball into the head of Lucas Melano after the play was blown dead.

The Timbers, for their part, then looked thoroughly defeated. But yet, out of nowhere, Dairon Asprilla spun and found Maxi Urruti at the far post in the 118th minute for the Timbers’ equalizer.

Yes, Thursday is a story in which Dairon Asprilla and Maxi Urruti are heroes.

And that’s only where it began. For years to come, every Timbers and Sporting KC fan will immediately know full well the meaning of the phrase "double post." And how about Adam Kwarasey?

The Timbers are moving on to the Western Conference semifinal, something that at countless moments on Thursday night (to say nothing of two weeks ago) seemed highly improbable.

And that’s really all there is to be said about that.

2. Should the Timbers be concerned about their ability to hold a lead?

For much of the evening on Thursday the Timbers were in pretty good control of the game.

It wasn’t always pretty - the Timbers showed signs of the final-third problems that haunted them through September and into October - and it wasn’t always especially convincing as Portland let Kansas City hang around for most of an hour in a 0-0 draw. But the Timbers were in control.

As a result of SKC’s high pressure, the Timbers were relatively direct throughout. For the first hour or so, however, the Timbers were effectively so, creating chances on the offensive end while maintaining balance and keeping the Wiz bottled up on the defensive end. Here is the Timbers’ distribution chart before Rodney Wallace opened the scoring:

But after the Timbers’ took the lead, that direct effectiveness crumbled as the Timbers struggled to keep their foot on the ball or mount any coherent counterattack. Take a look at the Timbers’ paltry distribution for the last approximately 40 minutes of regulation:

Oh my.

After the game Caleb Porter largely chalked this up to the reality of leading by a goal and SKC pushing numbers forward. SKC’s aggressiveness was certainly a factor in pinning the Timbers in and, on the whole, it’s not like it became a shooting gallery on Adam Kwarasey’s goal. So to say the Timbers’ crumbled under Sporting’s pressure wouldn’t be accurate.

But it’s also undeniable that Portland didn’t manage their lead well; the Timbers team that controlled much of the game to take the lead yielded the run of play to SKC in the final half hour of regulation. And although SKC were a little bit fortunate to find the equalizer, the Timbers were never serious threats to put the game away.

How big a problem is this going forward? Well, the Timbers certainly would like to handle things better than they did on Thursday. But losing leads hasn’t been a significant problem over the course of 2015. In fact, the Timbers were arguably the best in the league in that respect.

Over the course of the regular season the Timbers were a near-perfect and MLS-best 14-0-2 when scoring the first goal and led the league with a 9-5-0 record in one-goal games.

So while the Timbers weren’t impressive in the face of Sporting KC’s desperation on Thursday, to call maintaining leads a weakness would be incorrect.

3. How well can the Timbers recover before Leg One against Vancouver?

This is the $64,000 question right now.

For whatever reason, the Timbers - the top seed in the Western Conference knockout round - drew the short end of the stick in having to play on Thursday, giving them one less day of rest before a potential conference semifinal than the lower fourth- and fifth-seeds.

This is, simply put, bush-league scheduling by an MLS that is all too familiar with such self-inflicted errors.

But righteousness won’t make the Timbers’ legs any lighter on Sunday afternoon against the Whitecaps. And so the Timbers have a massive challenge in front of them - move beyond their dramatic knockout-round win, recover from the effort of 120 minutes against SKC, and prepare for the biggest game of the season against the Whitecaps that will kickoff just 64 hours after the Timbers victoriously stepped off the field on Thursday evening.

So there is really no time to celebrate the indelible win over SKC. On Sunday afternoon the Timbers have to get back to work.