Deep down, I think we all knew it was going to come to this. Despite all of the talk early in the season of rocketing up the table with a home heavy August and September, despite all of the power rankings that had the Timbers second or third, despite all of flashes of “Wait, maybe we’re actually really good!” ... we all really knew what this season would come down to.
A game on the final day of the season to decide if the Portland Timbers make the playoffs. Same as it ever was.
The good news is that Portland controls their own fate: If they win (or even tie), they’re in. They can even back in with a little help. Also, provided we get Timbers soccer past the first week of October, there’s always a chance that the boys in green go on a little run. So rooting interests across the league are more important now than ever. Lucky for you, dear reader, there’s one last completely biased rooting guide to help you navigate the perils of Decisions Day.
Here’s who Timbers fans should root for (all at 1 p.m. Pacific. Woo for simultaneous kickoffs!) on the final Sunday of the regular season.
We’re going to get all of the Eastern Conference games out of the way first because the rooting interest is the same across every game. If Portland makes the postseason (still kind of a big “if”, folks), and if they manage to go on a run (an even bigger “if”), and if they reach the final for a second straight year (the biggest “if” of all), then there are a handful of Eastern Conference teams that they may face that could finish with a lower point total than Portland. Which means one thing: MLS Cup at Providence Park. And that would be pretty cool.
Yes, I have been very inclined to mostly root against Atlanta this season. And yes, in this situation, I would normally recommend rooting for a Revs smash and grab. But in this case, New England is only one point behind Portland, and we want them to stay behind Portland. So cue up that obnoxious train whistle — we’re rooting for Atlanta.
Root for: A 3-0 Atlanta rout. Josef Martinez makes a shock return after his injury and scores a hat trick. Folks say that after his third goal, he actually briefly levitated during his celebration, but no one can say if it actually happened, so it lives on as Atlanta lore. Bruce Arena, so pissed that his team got smacked, makes some key tactical decisions, which will prove to be the difference as the Revs charge to the Eastern Conference Finals.
D.C. is another team that can finish behind Portland in the overall table. If Portland wins and D.C. loses, they would be equal on points, but Portland would finish ahead of them by virtue of number of wins. Here’s hoping “The Team of Misfit Timbers” can do Portland one final solid.
Root for: A 2-1 Cincinnati win. Allan Cruz scores a brace, cementing himself as probably Cincinnati’s best player this season (not a high bar, but still). Alvas Powell — yes, Alvas Powell — makes a game-saving block on Paul Arriola to preserve the win. Watching from the stands, Wayne Rooney decides he’s had enough of this rubbish and makes the decision to go God mode before he leaves for Derby. The Eastern Conference won’t know what hit them.
It’s weird to say that the Portland Timbers can finish ahead of the New York Red Bulls, but … the Portland Timbers can finish ahead of the New York Red Bulls. Montreal had yet another bad season, but it’s going to get papered over by the fact that they won the silliest cup competition in North America, The Canadian Championship, and got a trophy. So if you’re an Impact fan, enjoy half a season of Wilmer Cabrerra before he’s unceremoniously fired and the revolving door continues to spin!
Root for: A 2-0 Montreal win. Despite my above lambasting, the Impact winning does keep the Red Bulls below Portland in the standings (provided Portland wins). As one final …
Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire
The “Well, Both of These Teams Are Bad” Cup. It’s a shame that this game has no real impact or relevance to the Timbers. Last week, there was an outside shot this game would have been for the last playoff spot. Instead, this now just a sad exercise for two broken fanbases who openly wonder when the misery will end.
Root for: A 0-0 draw. A miserable game deserves a miserable result, and a scoreless draw between two irrelevant Eastern Conference teams is the most miserable of results. Nobody really wants to be at this game: the fans, the coaches, the players, even the referees. It has all the makings of a boring and dull draw. So, of course, because this is MLS, it’s going to finish like 5-4 or something like that.
Another game that doesn’t impact Portland, but this game could actually be pretty compelling. Philly and NYC are both good and play entertaining brands of soccer, and this game could wind up being an Eastern Conference finals preview. Portland can’t catch either of these teams in the standings, so your personal rooting interests depends on your affinity for cheese steaks vs. pizza.
Root for: A 3-2 NYCFC win. I’m still all in on MLS Cup potentially being “hosted” by NYC in Red Bull Arena, so if it can’t be in Portland than it might as well be in Jersey. Heber scores a brace, Maxi Moralez scores a penalty, and Dome Torrent goes full Pep Guardiola and debuts a stylish new turtleneck/gray cardigan combo.
Oh, Toronto. What in the world is your season this year? They haven’t been good, haven’t been that bad, just solidly … fine all season. It’s probably the second weirdest after Portland’s.
Will they go far in the playoffs? Will they flame out in the first round? Will they lose to Columbus, yet get all the way to MLS Cup in Portland? Respectively: Who knows, probably, and sure, why not?
Root for: A 2-0 Columbus Crew win. Gyasi Zardes scores a brace, thus dooming USMNT plans to be subjected him starting both of the Nation’s League games during the international break. During his post-game presser, Caleb Porter celebrates the fact that he won silverware in his first year with Columbus, bragging that he never did that in Portland. A reporter reminds him that it’s the Trillium Cup, and it doesn’t really matter that much. Porter pauses during his press conference, blinks, and then says through gritted teeth “As I was saying, unlike when I was in Portland … ”.
And now we come to the wild, wild, Western Conference. There is seeding to sort out, and that could impact potential playoff match-ups for Portland. But the main drama is around the final two playoff spots. Your primary rooting interest obviously lies in Portland making the playoffs. But outside of that, I say we root for the most improbable of improbable scenarios: The Colorado Rapids in the playoffs.
LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids
The Colorado Rapids can still make the playoffs. That’s it. That’s the blurb for this game.
But seriously, how kind of awesome would that be? It would take the throne of “Most Unlikely Run to the Postseason Ever,” so we can finally stop hearing about when that one team did it in 2016. And, the Rapids have been playing some good soccer! They probably deserve to be in the playoffs. And importantly, them getting in is actually contingent on Portland winning, so we can root guilt-free.
Root for: An incredibly surprising 2-0 Colorado win. Dallas and San Jose need to lose for this dream to become a reality, but that doesn’t mean anything unless the Rapids pull off the upset at the Banc. And they very well could! Kei Kamara scores early off of a set piece, and then LAFC spends the entire game pressing and chasing a goal. It leaves them open on the counter, and Colorado takes advantage, scoring the insurance goal via Andre Shinyashiki. The population of prairie dogs back in Commerce City throw a gigantic underground party, terrifying the surface-goers.
In the all-too-likely event that Portland blows it against San Jose, they can still back into the playoffs via FC Dallas losing. Plus, it is one of the things that needs to happen for Colorado to make the playoffs. Dallas losing is a longshot, but weirder stuff has happened on Decision Day, and it ain’t gonna stop us rooting for the Wiz.
Root for: A 3-2 Sporting win. Dallas goes up 2-0 early, and the aforementioned prairie dogs hang their heads in sadness. But suddenly, SKC figures out how to soccer again. The second half features a changed team: Graham Zusi looks like his 2014 self again, Matt Besler is a world-class defender again, and Kriztian Nemeth remembers he can actually be a good soccer player again and scores a hat trick. All the while, Peter Vermes watches on, stone faced. The only thought in his head: “Where in hell were these guys this season??”
There was a time when I thought this game could be the cruelest of deja vu for the Galaxy, but alas, Houston has gone and sucked this season. Do the Galaxy suck? I honestly have no clue. They look like MLS Cup favorites one week, and then the worst team in the West the next. Should Timbers fans want the LAGs to be stumbling into the playoffs? You bet Zlatan’s bun we do.
Root for: A 2-1 Houston win. Sebastian Lletget redeems himself and scores a beautiful ball from Zlatan. But Houston charges back and scores two unanswered in the second half: The first scored by new “Master of The Dark Arts” Tommy McNamara, and the second scored in dramatic fashion by DaMarcus Beasley in the 93rd minute. Everyone is in tears as the team carries of the ageless DMB in what is his final soccer game. Everyone that is except Davy Aranaud. He knows he’s not getting the full-time coaching job, but he walks off the field with a wry smile. His protege will continue on and keep the legacy of hard men in MLS alive.
One side of my brain: Okay, actually hear me out this time. Seattle always does this annoying thing where the kind of limp into the playoffs and then play really well once they get there. Does Portland want to be on the receiving end of that? Heck no. I think we can beat the Loons in Minnesota. We were one dubious penalty away from getting a result there a few months ago. We want Minnesota to be the third seed.
Other side of my brain: Oh, you absolute, ridiculous, ninny ... Wait, I actually agree with you this time? Yeah, the Timbers have a good of a shot as any to beat Minnesota. And we avoid the existential stress of playing Seattle in a high stakes game again. Loons should lose.
What I decided to write: Huh, you two finally got along? Took long enough. I can never actually in good faith say “root for that one team,” but I agree with the logic.
Root for: A game in which Minnesota scores no goals and has one goal scored on them. The goal is boring, and nobody actually realizes it’s a goal until way after it goes in the net. A VAR check is used, and nobody really celebrates that hard. The game ends after the scoring sequence described above. And there was much rejoicing.
Portland can’t finish ahead of RSL, so I guess our rooting interest is in RSL being in bad form? Or, maybe, it’s RSL rocketing up into the third seed so that if Portland is the sixth seed they have to travel to Sandy, which is by all definitions a very winnable game. Yeah, let’s go with that one.
Root for: RSL wins 1-0, off the most VAR sequence to ever VAR. Salt Lake has a corner kick that is cleared, while RSL appeals for a handball. Vancouver streaks down the field and scores, but then the referee does everyone’s favorite “draw a box with your fingers” motion and checks the play. Vancouver was offside on the goal, and it turns out there was a foul on the corner kick. So the goal is taken off, RSL wins the penalty, but it’s saved. But then VAR determines that Maxime Crepeau came off his line to the penalty is retaken. It’s saved again, but on the clearance a Vancouver defender handles the ball intentionally in the box. So, the defender is sent off, RSL scores the ensuing penalty, and the referee just decides to call the match right then and there because that moment is never going to be topped.
On a final note, thanks for reading along with all of my irreverent yet kind of serious rooting guides this season! It was fun for me to synthesize my intense love for the Portland Timbers, interest in all things MLS, and sports-based paranoia into one product, and I hope you had one or two laughs along the way. Here’s hoping that this one turns out to be my first 100 percent accurate rooting guide — and that we’re jumping and clapping and singing into the fall. Onward.