The Portland Timbers ended their regular season with a flourish, blowing past Austin FC by a 3-0 margin in their Decision Day clash at Providence Park. Cristhian Paredes got the scoring going in the first half, Jaroslaw Niezgoda added another right before halftime, and Sebastian Blanco made it three in the second half.
Portland entered their final regular season game with their place in the standings already decided. They could finish no higher or lower than the fourth position in the Western Conference and already clinched a home playoff game. Despite the insignificant stakes, the Timbers were keen on finishing the season strong and exacting some amount of revenge on an Austin FC side that embarrassed Portland on two occasions earlier in the year.
The expansion side showed their attacking quality very early on and had the ball in the net only a few minutes after kickoff. Only by the grace of an Austin handball in the buildup were Portland saved early blushes. Immediately thereafter, Portland had a near goal of their own via a scintillating and textbook Timbers’ counter attack. Yimmi Chara had a clear look on goal saved off the line by former Portland defender Julio Cascante.
The opening stages were reflective of the energy of the first half. Austin FC was not afraid to commit numbers forward and the Timbers looked to take advantage of the space on turnovers. Perhaps due to the lessened stakes of the occasion, both sides looked willing to take risks and play aggressively.
That aggression would result in the hosts opening the scoring in the 17th minute. Santiago Moreno showed great awareness in pressuring the aforementioned Cascante to win the ball in a dangerous spot. He pinged a perfect crossfield ball to Sebastian Blanco, who laid it off right in front of goal to Cristhian Paredes. Parades ran onto it and smashed the ball into the net. As the rain began to fall, the Timbers took a 1-0 lead.
Undeterred by the deficit, Austin stayed determined in their efforts to control possession and attack Portland’s goal. Still, through the first half hour the away side had yet to register a shot.
Portland continued to look dangerous. Blanco almost doubled Portland’s advantage with two separate attempts that flashed wide. Yimmi Chara nearly did the same after some nice interplay with Jaroslaw Niezgoda and his shot also fizzed wide of the far post.
Despite having multiple good attacking sequences, and peppering the Austin goal with multiple attempts, it appeared that the Timbers were headed toward halftime with a one-goal lead, as the odds of them finding a second dwindled as the first half wound to a close.
But never tell Jaroslaw Niezgoda the odds. The Timbers striker with the unbelievably high strike conversion rate would add another to his tally right before the stroke of halftime. Portland’s pressure turned over Austin in a dangerous area yet again. Yimmi Chara was the beneficiary. After winning the ball at the edge of the right side of Austin’s box, Yimmi collected the ball and lofted a cross towards the near post. Niezgoda was there to meet it with his chest and knocked it past Brad Stuver and into the goal.
Niezogda’s third goal of the season, which was scored with his first shot of the game, gave Portland a 2-0 lead as the halftime whistle blew.
By all accounts, it was a very impressive first half for the Timbers and they looked like a team ready for the playoffs. Their attack was dangerous and flowing and the defense held the visitors to just a single shot during the opening 45 minutes.
Not satisfied with the first half being the end of their solid play, Portland came out in the second half just as strong as the first. Niezgoda almost found his second with a header that rose over the bar, created by a Blanco attacking sequence. Another instance of pressure from Blanco caused another turnover, which resulted in three successive shots from close range somehow being saved.
But just as in the first half, Portland’s pressure would not let up and they would not be denied. In the 53rd minute, the Timbers won back possession and Yimmi Chara launched an excellent field-switching ball to Blanco on the break. Blanco laid the ball off for Niezgoda, who attempted to chip the ball in for his second. Stuver got a hand to the ball, but the deflection sent the ball right to the waiting feet of Blanco, who had continued his run. Seba, not breaking stride, ran right onto the ball and bundled it home to make it 3-0.
Portland shifted things into second gear after the goal and yet still found more scoring opportunities. In the 78th minute, Yimmi Chara hit the crossbar after another dangerous Timbers breakaway opportunity.
On the defensive side of the ball, with nothing to lose and little to play for, Austin found slightly more attacking purchase by throwing numbers forward, aided by Portland easing off the gas pedal. The visitors managed six shots during the game and four shots on target, but would never find the net.
As the Timbers Army started their Tetris-themed victory chant early, the final whistle blew, certifying Portland’s impressive 3-0 win over Austin FC.
Portland now turns its attention towards the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs. They know they will be playing at home in the first round, and via results elsewhere across the league, they know that their opponents will be the dangerous Minnesota United FC.
The Timbers exacted their revenge on a pesky opponent and finished the regular season on a high. It was an exclamation point on a regular season that felt very topsy-turvy at times, and ended with the Timbers recording their highest MLS regular season wins ever with 17 total victories.
But for it to mean anything in the long run, the Timbers will have to turn that into postseason success. Their next job is to rest, recover, and prepare for the Loons. If Portland want to end this season as they wanted to back in March, with silverware, the real work starts now.