Well, we’ve finally made it: Decision Day. It was a long, winding road that got us here, but after an almost four-month work stoppage, a midseason tournament (that the Portland Timbers won) in Orlando, and a season restart still filled with so many positive cases that it felt like we would almost have to stop it all again, we’ve made it.
Specifically, if you’re the Portland Timbers, you’re pretty proud of what you’ve accomplished in 2020. As noted earlier, they won the MLS is Back Tournament back in August and are second in the Western Conference standings going into Sunday. Not bad for a team that lost arguably its best player in Sebastian Blanco to an ACL tear while also losing several other players to injuries at various points. After such a long road, the Timbers are ready for whatever the end may bring.
“I know we are very excited about this last part of the season, obviously,” midfielder Diego Valeri said. “We have been one of those teams that have played the most in the whole league if you count the games in Orlando and all these games we have been playing, and we are in a good level. We have to keep growing from it because this is the most important part of the season.”
Important doesn’t even seem to fully encapsulate how close this final stretch of games is — and this final match is very important considering where the Timbers stand at the moment. The loss on Wednesday means they’ve stumbled out of first place, but with a win against LAFC tomorrow and a loss from Sporting Kansas City, Portland can finish the year at the top of the table. They want more than the one home game they’re already getting.
“Playing at home, playing in your own backyard and being able to be home and being with your family, being comfortable, I think is something that is important,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “I think you know your place and that makes an advantage regardless.”
That advantage is there whether or not there are thousands of fans at Providence Park cheering them on the whole way through. In a year where the schedules have been so condensed, with teams often playing on only three days’ rest, having the chance to stay at home for the majority of the playoffs would be a blessing. It’s a possibility that Portland may receive that blessing.
But it’s something they’ll have to work for, and even then it won’t matter. Portland have to beat LAFC on Sunday and SKC has to lose. One of those results is out of their control and the other will be extremely difficult to achieve. First, despite the imperfect season they’ve had, LAFC is a dangerous club that Portland have struggled against ever since they joined MLS in 2018 (2-4-3 W-L-D). Second, they have to do it without the steady presence of Diego Chara, who will miss this match because of yellow card accumulation. It’s difficult circumstances to say the least for Portland, and Savarese is well aware of that.
“I think we’ve been very, very competitive with them,” Savarese said. “They’re always very interesting matches when we face each other and especially this game even more because there is so much at stake for both teams.”
At the very least, we should be in for a competitive match tomorrow. LAFC has gotten the better of them most the time during the restart, but as it has been for most this season, what usually sinks Portland isn’t poor play overall, but just one or two bad moves at inopportune times. It’s what cost them two points last time against LAFC and three points Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids. Whatever happens, though, the Timbers, and everyone else who has watched them, have come a long way since March.