This one stings. I don’t know how else to put it. The Portland Timbers lost their opening playoff match against FC Dallas in an extremely gut-wrenching fashion. It was exactly what you want if you’re a neutral viewer: An even matchup that goes into a tense penalty kick shootout? Sign me up. As fun as it is to watch that unfold in a game where you have no stake in the outcome, however, it’s extremely tense when your team could be on the losing end.
And that’s what happened to the Timbers. Richard Farley, the excellent internal writer and podcaster for the Timbers and Thorns, put it best when he tweeted that someone has to lose PKs, and the fact that Jorge Villafana happened to be the one kicking the shot that was blocked wasn’t an indictment on him. Definitionally, someone had to kick the losing ball, and it happened to be the guy who looked like the savior just minutes before. That’s just what happens in PKs.
“Once you get to the [penalty kicks], you need to understand that anything can happen,” Savarese said. “So that’s something that you have to know ... and you’re very hopeful that you can get the job done. But, in reality, when you get to PKs, anything can happen.”
“It’s frustration in the PK shootout: Whatever can happen, and it’s just a tiny difference that changed the game,” midfielder Diego Valeri said. “But, at the end, obviously, we are very disappointed with the way our season is ending, but the team left everything on the field.”
The thing that hurts to think about most is that Portland shouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place. They were undone by the same problem that has haunted them all season long: A goal in the extra time that causes pandemonium. It’s something we’ve written about on this site numerous times because it consistently cost them points. This time, instead of it just costing points, it cost them the playoffs.
“It’s something that we didn’t expect today because we felt strong to continue to move forward,” Savarese said. “But in the end you have to have to execute it on the field, and it’s not your feelings, but what you do on the field that makes the difference, and unfortunately right now we are out of this race in which I thought that the guys did a great job to be in this position.”
The last part of that last sentence was something Savarese emphasized last night after the game. While it generally just stinks to lose, it hurts even more when your team battles through adversity to get there and still comes up short in such a disappointing fashion. The 2020 season did not end the way that Portland would’ve hoped, but it doesn’t mean that 2020 was without success.
In August, they won the MLS is Back Tournament, something Savarese proudly said will go down in history as hopefully a one-time event. They suffered numerous injuries to players —such as Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda — throughout the season and still finished third in the West. They even made it through the season without a single COVID-positive test coming through, a new and strange stat that teams have to take pride in now because that truly does take a commitment from everyone in the organization. For Portland, everything about this loss is disappointing, but this loss also isn’t everything.
“I’m so proud of this group,” Savarese said. “In this moment, it doesn’t erase all the good that we did this year, but of course it brings disappointment because we’re competitive ... We want to give everything to our fans, to Portland, to this team. So finishing right now is not going to erase anything, but it’s disappointing because we are a team that wants to always be in the final.”
Instead, they’ll have to watch the final from the comfort of their homes. Single elimination has been awesome for the MLS Playoffs. It’s just not that awesome when you’re the team on the losing end. But El Maestro put it best when discussing how hard it is to lose in PKs: That’s just soccer.
“But at the end, this is soccer,” Valeri said. “Something has to decide who advances and who doesn’t, and as I say, it’s a tough process now that it’s a loss. Nobody expected that. We were very confident in our team and obviously, we wanted to play another final in the MLS. But we have competitions next season to play and we have to reinforce and keep building the team for next season.”