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MLS rooting guide for Timbers fans: Rivalry Week

The “Sponsored by Heineken” edition

Kris Lattimore

Seattle is coming to town, and the Cascadia Cup is on the line. Plus, the MLS standings are as jumbled as ever, and Portland is still in the midst of their homestand. So now is not the time to dwell on Sunday’s missed chances. Instead, it is the perfect time to dwell on and stress about all of the teams the Timbers are jockeying against for playoff positioning!

MLS this week has already been wild (stay weird, Atlantic Cup), and we’ve already seen some significant developments in the Western Conference. (Congrats to Carlos Vela, who just became the new owner of the San Jose Earthquakes.) And it’s only going to get weirder as we move into the weekend. This could be the weekend where Portland finally gains some ground in the playoff race. Or, it could be the weekend where Portland drops below the red line again, and we all start to panic. Fun times.

Here’s who Timbers fans should be rooting for this weekend, so that the times do indeed stay fun:

Orlando City SC v. Atlanta United (Friday, 5:00 p.m.)

Is this really a rivalry? Both fanbases hate each other, so there’s real vitriol there. But if we’re being honest about the perception of Orlando’s and Atlanta’s fanbases across the league … not a whole lot of people like either of them. I think Orlando beating Atlanta, like well and truly beating down Atlanta, would do wonders to make this “rivalry” a rivalry.

Preferred result: Orlando wallops Atlanta 4-0. Pity Martinez gets a red card for flopping in the box twice, trying to earn a penalty. Dom Dwyer, maybe one of the only other players in MLS who can match Josef Martinez in mean mugging, scores a hat trick. He celebrates by eating a piece of meat just like J. Martinez did in that video.

NYCFC v. New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 4:00 p.m.)

Historically dominated by the red side of New York, this rivalry has recently been showing shades of blue. I personally think it’s great that NYC is winning and turning this into a respectable rivalry. That being said, it cannot be ignored that NYC still does not have a stadium or even a plan to get one. It’s 2019, and your soccer pitch has an infield. C’mon.

Preferred result: Red Bulls win 3-1. They pull away with two second-half goals scored by Bradley Wright-Phillips. He celebrates by pantomiming hitting a homerun, because pointing out that NYC play in a baseball stadium will never not be funny.

New England Revolution v. Chicago Fire (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)

Not a rivalry by any stretch of the imagination, but the Revs and Fire have to play somebody, right? I think the only thing weirder than the Revs suddenly becoming respectable in the Eastern Conference right now is the fact that Chicago has an outside shot to make the playoffs. MLS is wild y’all.

Preferred result: A cagey 1-0 Revs win. After the game, Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury, the goal-scorer, are chatting in the locker room. “Man, sure is great that we have Bruce as a coach, isn’t it?”, Agudelo exclaims. Bunbury gives him a grin, “For sure! Can’t believe he came in midway to rescue a spiraling team and lead them to success!” Agudelo furrows his brow. “Wait, doesn’t that sound like what he was doing with ... ” Suddenly, Arena bursts into the room, “WE DON’T TALK ABOUT COUVA JUAN.” Agudelo and Bunbury frantically leave. As they exit, Arena mutters under his breath “... we don’t talk about Couva … we can’t talk about Couva … ”.

Philadelphia v. DC United (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)

Another game that is decidedly not a rivalry, but a game that decidedly has a little more bite. Philadelphia has won the past five head to head matchups, and in the process have dropped 15 total goals on the black and red. DC is currently in a nosedive, and may not pull up in time. This may get ugly folks.

Preferred result: Philly drops five more goals on DC to win 5-2. Bill Hamid just doesn’t even try to stop the fifth goal (it’s an Alejandro Bedoya screamer). As he stands on the sideline, brooding, Ben Olsen wonders if he still has the legs to become a player manager: “If Wayne can do it, so can I … ”.

Toronto FC v. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)

Montreal is a team that is fighting to stay alive in the playoff chase, so what do they do? Fire their marginally successful head coach, and then hire a different marginally successful head coach who was just fired for failing to keep his team alive in the playoff chase! Because … reasons? This is the oddest chapter in the MLS coaching carousel that I think I’ve ever seen.

Preferred result: A 3-1 Toronto win. Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley score, again making USMNT fans sad about what could have been in Couva back in 2017. Wilmer Cabrera watches his team implode from the sidelines in frustrated silence, becoming the human embodiment of this meme.

Real Salt Lake v. Colorado Rapids (Saturday 7:00 p.m.)

The unimaginatively named Rocky Mountain Cup finale this year also serves as the final rivalry game between two MLS goalkeeping greats. But this game also has some sneaky huge playoff implications for Portland. RSL stands just three points ahead of Portland, and they’re one of the teams that Portland could and should pass. Root for the frustratingly tenaciously Rapids to do what they do best.

Preferred result: A 1-0 Colorado win. Andre Shinyashiki gets the goal to write his name into rivalry lore, but the real stars of the game are Nick Rimando and Tim Howard. They put on an absolute spectacle, each piling up a dozen saves each. Howard saves a shot with his forehead, and Rimando, not to be outdone, follows that with a save square off his face. Halfway through the game, both teams just decide to stop playing defense and let each other rip shots from 30 yards, just to see if the two keepers can save it. It’s like the skills challenge, only during an actual game.

San Jose Earthquakes v. Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.)

Apparently MLS tried to bill the Wednesday night matchup between San Jose and LAFC as a “rivalry”? By the logic that “sure, both teams play in California, so it’s cool, right?”. Well if that game was supposed to be competitive, it decidedly was, uh, not. Timbers fans should be rooting that the ’Quakes keep getting dribbled into oblivion, to make the path up the table clearer.

Preferred result: A 2-0 Vancouver win, where San Jose musters 15 shots in the second half alone. Unfortunately, all of them are being taken by Chris Wondolowski from 25 yards out, and so they all miss spectacularly.

FC Cincinnati v. Columbus Crew (Sunday, 3:00 p.m.)

Hell is Real, part 2! The first MLS edition of this rivalry was actually pretty solid, and this one will be in Nippert Stadium, so the atmosphere is bound to be electric. The Timbers’ fingerprints are all over this one too: It features a former head coach and four former players. I’ve gone on the record in these columns saying that I want good things for Caleb Porter in his first season in Ohio, and winning this one would be a small but satisfying solace for a team whose season has gone all wrong, but deserved more.

Preferred result: A fun 3-2 Columbus win. Fanendo Adi surprisingly gets the start and scores a vintage brace. David Guzman scores, Alvas Powell causes an own goal, and Gyasi Zardes wins it at the death.

FC Dallas v. Houston Dynamo (Sunday, 5:00 p.m.)

The rivalry that features maybe the coolest trophy out of them all: a literal cannon. The battle for El Capitan should be spicy this time around, as Dallas is fighting to stay in the playoff race, and Houston would love nothing more than to ruin their chances. Portland would love that quite a bit as well, as it would keep Dallas (who are tied with the Timbers on points) off their backs.

Preferred result: A 2-1 Houston win. As the game is tied late in the second half, interim Houston coach Davy Arnaud badly wishes he could sub himself on again. He once again realizes he can’t, and decides that he must teach one of Houston’s midfielders to become his protege and avatar on the field. Just at that moment, midfielder Tommy McNamara scores the winner. After the celebrations, a devilish smile slowly creeps onto Arnaud’s face.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy (Sunday, 7:30 p.m.)

The most entertaining rivalry matchup in MLS over the past two years. Amazingly, each time these two teams play, the stakes seem to reach even greater heights — and this time is no exception. LAFC is out to prove their team is the best ever. The Galaxy is out to prove that they’re actually relevant again. Carlos Vela is out to prove he is one of MLS’s all time greats. Zlatan is out to prove nothing, because, in his words, “I’m Zlatan”. And on top of it all, LAFC has never beaten the Galaxy. They (and Timbers fans too) are hoping that that statistic stops here.

Preferred result: A 4-2 LAFC victory. Zlatan scores two goals in the first half as LAFC is held scoreless. But coming out of halftime, Vela’s eyes look different. The exuberance he usually conveys is gone, replaced by a cold, unfeeling intensity. Right as the second half starts, Vela stares at Zlatan across the center circle. He takes a big breath in, and then out. For the first time in his life, Zlatan feels something other than obnoxious arrogance. He staggers back a step as Vela receives the ball and charges at him. A slight cynical grin appears on Vela’s face as he blows past the Swedish man and scores his first of four unanswered goals in the second half. Bob Bradley watches Vela utterly annihilate the Galaxy, and blinks in confusion. He thinks to himself, “Huh, maybe we shouldn’t have let Carlos binge the Matrix trilogy last night … ”.

And there’s your rooting guide for the weekend! Thoughts? Let me hear em.