The 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs are off to the exact start that we hoped for (assuming your respective team won). If we had just had the play-in games on Friday, I would’ve come into today’s games satisfied. But with the absolute insanity that was the ending to Orlando City vs. New York City FC, I would say the playoffs are giving us everything we hoped for and more.
Now the Portland Timbers are finally joining the madness. They’ve got their first playoff game later tonight against FC Dallas. It’s the first time the two teams have played each other all year, and while there are certainly weaknesses that Portland can exploit, it’s still a bit of an unknown how this game will go. But there’s one advantage that Portland are grateful for.
“Every game in MLS is difficult,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Now we’re playing a team that we know very well, even though we haven’t played against them this season ... We know them very well. I’m sure that they’ve done the job to look at us and see how we play, and I think in the end the big thing for us is that we’re playing at home.”
After months of bouncing back and forth from California to Oregon to Washington and back, they at least get the luxury of a home game to start the playoffs. When you’ve spent most of the year playing on only three days’ rest and having numerous nights with a home game on Sunday and an away game on Wednesday, that matters.
There’s another key in there that should benefit both clubs: Rest. It’s been two weeks since either of these clubs have played a match in MLS. Some players went on international duty, but for the most part it was a pretty straightforward two weeks of rest. Fresh legs is something that no one in Portland is taking for granted.
“This is very important for us to have had the chance to finally be able to prepare,” Savarese said. “ To prepare on the field more than just the videos and resting and trying to rush into having only two or three days available to be able to prepare the team for the next match. Having the two weeks has been very good for us and the good thing is that everybody understands the importance of this match.”
The important thing for Savarese during these past two weeks has been making sure that everyone stays focused and that training is done at a high intensity. There’s an age-old battle of rest vs. rust that has waged on for as long as sports have been around, but Savarese feels confident that his team has taken practice seriously enough to be competitive.
“The guys have done a great job to make sure that every practice was a very high level and that makes me feel confident,” Savarese said.
We’ve addressed just about everything in this preview, but there’s one lingering question: Who will be available? Jeremy Ebobisse will hopefully be ready to play after missing the end of the regular season with a concussion, but there are questions about the guys on international teams. Felipe Mora and Andy Polo were both expected to miss this match, but now after being chartered back to Portland there’s a chance they’ll be available. Having Polo would be fine, but getting Mora and Ebobisse back would be huge at the striker position.
“We’re very hopeful that all of them will be available,” Savarese said. “And that’s something we had some question marks last week. But (at) the moment we’re very positive and very hopeful that they will be available so we just have to see how things go.”
That’s something we won’t know until we get closer to game time tonight. Until then, we’ll just have the anticipation of Portland’s playoff opener. Maybe some of you are hoping it goes how most are expecting and Portland wins with ease. Maybe some of you are praying for playoff madness like we saw with Orlando City. Whatever you’re hoping for, it’ll be good to see the lads in green and gold back out on the pitch.