The Portland Timbers’ match against FC Dallas in the first round of the playoffs was gut-wrenching for Portland fans. Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez was not very adventurous, but he got some things right. Dallas looked like a completely different team defensively from their Decision Day match against Minnesota United. FC Dallas was very compact. They were organized and let the Timbers have the ball.
The Timbers still had the opportunities to win this game. But Jimmy Maurer — Giovanni Savarese’s former keeper with the New York Cosmos — had an incredible game and parried almost everything that came his way.
The loss was so painful because it was exactly what we have come to expect from this team and what has caused Portland to drop so many points this season: A defensive error in stoppage time. Dallas didn’t create much at all but all they needed was one opportunity when the Timbers fell asleep defensively. They took their chance and the match eventually drifted to penalties.
The cruelty didn’t stop. It is always painful to watch a player miss the decisive penalty and it hurt even more that it was Jorge Villafaña. This was Villafaña’s year. It was perhaps his best season to date. Not to mention he was the player to finish off the amazing goal that put Portland in the driver’s seat late in this match. Sports can be cruel.
It would be easy to dwell on the negative from this match but I would rather focus on the positive. This has been a season like no other and the Timbers have shown their resilience through countless injuries, the bubble in Orlando, and a frenetic, compact season. Plus, they came away with the MLS is Back Tournament title by playing a fun brand of soccer.
There have been a lot of positives this season. We saw the arrival of Yimmi Chara. Eryk Williamson became a key cog in the team. Jeremy Ebobisse, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and Felipe Mora were scoring goals no matter who started. But what was really evident throughout the entire season, and especially this match against FC Dallas, was El Padrino and El Maestro still have it.
Diego ‘El Padrino’ Chara
Diego Chara put in one of his best performances of the year in the loss to FC Dallas. He was named to the MLS Best XI for the first time ever this year, finally getting some much deserved recognition. This performance exemplified just how great Chara is and how integral he is to the Timbers’ success.
Chara was absolutely everywhere on the pitch for the full 120 minutes. Portland had 55% of the possession throughout the match and Chara was behind it all. He had 138 touches, the most of anyone by far, and completed 115 of his 122 attempted passes. Chara’s 94.3% completion percentage is incredible through 120 minutes of playoff soccer. It is even more ridiculous considering 11 of the passes were into the final third and two were key passes. He trotted around the pitch wherever he pleased, completing four dribbles. He even looked like Valeri as he sprinted away on the counter-attack at times.
The thing that makes Chara as important as he is to the Timbers is his defensive contributions. He made three interceptions, five blocks, three tackles, and 15 recoveries. But the stats don’t do his performance justice. Sometimes you have to rely on the good, old-fashioned eye test.
Late in regular time when the Timbers committed more players forward to the attack and in extra time, Chara was a one man wrecking crew. FC Dallas tried to hit the Timbers on the counter repeatedly and they were always stopped.
Chara sprinted across the field but was always under control when it came to breaking up the move. He was excellent. It was nothing flashy. He was never putting in reckless challenges. El Padrino was calm, cool and collected. Despite the loss, was the glue that held the team together.
Diego ‘El Maestro’ Valeri
Valeri was unstoppable in the first half. He was a menace going forward creating opportunities for himself and for his teammates. It was no surprise that Valeri was the one that unlocked the extremely stubborn and organized FC Dallas defense - that’s what El Maestro does.
Portland played beautiful, free-flowing soccer in the build-up to the goal. Almost everyone in green and gold was involved. Valeri’s pass was exquisite. Time stood still as he faced up his defender in the box before he played a perfectly weighted outside of the boot pass to Villafaña.
To make the moment even more special, it was Valeri’s 100th assist in Major League Soccer. Valeri’s performance was much more than just this pass. The pass was his 10th shot involvement of the match, the most of any Timbers player in a MLS playoff match in their history. He created six chances and had four shots.
Valeri also contributed seven key passes and 13 crosses. Everything the Timbers did offensively stemmed from him and it was almost the storybook ending Timbers fans hoped for.
Who were the two players involved? El Padrino and El Maestro, of course. Chara recieved the ball and played it to a Valeri, who made a slashing run into the left of the 18-yard box. Valeri chipped the ball toward goal. The shot floated for an eternity before striking the outside of the post. Then the whistle blew. The Timbers were going to penalties.
We all know what happened next. It was heart-breaking and an excruciating end to the season. But the Portland Timbers will be back again next year ready to challenge for MLS Cup again. Things will change, players will come and go, but the two South Americans, separated by only 26 days, will be on the pitch again, doing what they do best: playing soccer in Providence Park.
Viva El Padrino, Viva El Maestro, and Onward Rose City!
Stats retrieved from Fbref.com.