In retrospect, maybe we should have seen this all coming after the short life and sudden death of “Giant Inflatable MLS Cup Trophy” (2021-2021):
Something rising from the ground despite the elements around it, stubbornly standing tall despite everything suggesting it shouldn’t, and then rushing forward to try to capture a moment of glory before finally being felled by its own weight and unfortunate circumstances.
Sounds a heck of a lot like the 2021 season for the Portland Timbers and what wound up being a gutting, heartbreaking, and topsy-turvy final game of the year.
All moments of levity aside - I still have not properly emotionally processed Saturday. And even after I do, I don’t think I’m going to be able to move on from that day for quite some time. Maybe ever.
I think the biggest reason for that, beyond the surface level “losing MLS Cup in the most heartbreaking fashion possible,” stems from the sheer gravity of the moment and the grief felt over the moment that never came.
It all started near the end. Felipe Mora’s moment of magic was one of the most incredible sports moments I have ever seen live. I was quite literally shaking in the aftermath of that. Of course, the entire stadium was shaking as well from the collective eruption of jubilation. We witnessed an all-time moment in Timbers’ lore. And we knew it.
The rush and roar of that moment seemed to set up the storybook ending we all wanted from the game and this season. We all felt it and we all believed it. Mora’s goal had rescued what had been a pretty dismal final game from the Timbers. Suddenly, Portland entered extra time with a newfound energy and determination that had not been shown yet in the final and it seemed as if they were destined to write that last chapter and fulfill the redemption arc.
There were so many moments in extra time when the storylines coalesced and it seemed like we were about to witness the moment. Cristhian Paredes’ chance at the far post. Paredes’ chance at the other end. And of course Diego Valeri’s chance at the top of the box. All of those, that last one in particular, had the aura of being the exclamation point. That final moment of magic.
Receiving the reward of a final moment of magic that delivered a trophy felt inevitable, and earned. The Timbers, and Timbers fans, had endured such a roller coaster of a year. Between poor results, bad blowouts, the most demoralizing loss in Cascadia rivalry history, and rancor toward inaction by club leadership - we all really ran the gauntlet of emotions in 2021. So as we all stood (and everyone in the dang stadium was standing) in extra time, we stood in eager anticipation of that final miracle.
Except... it never came. Paredes’ shots went wide or were saved. Valeri’s shot sailed into the North End. Portland was never able to put the final stamp on proceedings.
At the time, I was nervous but still hopeful for the shootout. There was no way things could end here. After everything, everything, that this season and that day had been, it just had to end in Diego Chara lifting that goofy looking trophy.
But we all know how it ended. The cruelest of Greek-tragedy endings unfolded and the cold reality of watching the Timbers get so close but falling short of reaching the promised land washed over the stadium like a damp, cold breeze.
This wondrous, maddening, joyous season had ended not in glory but in tragic heartbreak. It almost didn’t feel real. As unbelievable as Mora’s last gasp equalizer was, just as unbelievable was the fact that Portland couldn’t bring it home at home.
After the field was cleared, the stadium emptied, and giant inflatable props packed in boxes never to be seen again, there was then time to reflect and contextualize. And out of that time and space came some realization about what this whole thing was all about.
The legacy of this 2021 season was sparking belief. It was a team that had their backs against the wall time and time again, and fought their way out every time. The players were able to spark belief in themselves to overcome the moments of struggle they endured. They were able to spark belief in a fanbase - many of whom had been considering turning their back on the club for a variety of reasons. And they were able to spark an entire stadium to life in a game’s darkest moments.
It was a season that featured Diego Chara, the Godfather on this Timbers team, proving his doubters wrong yet again and showing us all that he is still as phenomenal of a player as the day he arrived in Portland.
It was a season that showed Dairon Asprilla, a player who Timbers have seen grow up before their eyes, finally come of age. Asprilla fulfilled the promise that so many had seen in him, and did so with joy in his every step.
It was a season that featured Sebastian Blanco make this team his own and become the fiery, determined, and emotional face of the Timbers. Even when he was not at his best on Saturday, he still fought for everything he could.
And of course, it was a season where we witnessed history from one of the greatest Timbers of all time. Diego Valeri joined the 100 goals & 100 assists club this year, rarefied air reserved for only the greatest of players in this league. If this was indeed his final year for the Timbers (and I won’t believe it is until he says it is), then this season will be remembered because he has been the soul of the Timbers that pushed them onwards - and he even chipped in a few more amazing moments for us to savor.
No missed shot or saved penalty will take that away. Nothing can take away the moment that Felipe Mora gave us all, in our stadium, on the grandest of stages. Nothing will supplant the joy this team gave us, the triumph we were all able to celebrate, or the electric atmosphere that we created last Saturday that no other club will be able to match.
We probably all still haven’t quite emotionally processed Saturday. And it will be some time before we are able to move on and shift our focus toward 2022. But the moments we’ll remember from Saturday serve as a reminder as to why we serenade the field in the 85th minute of games and how we all can’t help but fall in love with this team and the magical moments it brings.
Stats, Stems, and Leaves
- Not counting the penalty shootout, the Timbers only allowed two goals during the entire postseason.
- For all of the talk of the underlying numbers favoring NYC over Portland… the Timbers won Saturday’s xG battle 1.3 to 0.9.
- Pulling the goalkeeper worked: Steve Clark was the one who recycled the ball after the late corner kick that eventually found its way to Mora for the equalizer. Just unbelievable.
- In the context of the storm that was swirling around Providence Park, I completely understand the Timbers Army’s decision to deploy only a part of the tifo. The full one is also fantastic, and the tifo team’s incredible work deserves to be recognized.
Moment in the Shade
Portland’s 2021 season will be remembered for many wonderful things. The list could take up this entire section. But in this blogger’s humble opinion, I will remember this year the most for that moment when Felipe Mora caused the entire city to explode.
So for the year’s last reflection of Good Timbers Things (™), I will just leave some of the best videos I’ve seen on twitter (listening discretion advised) of perhaps the greatest moment in Providence Park history:
I mean, just listen to this. Best sound in sports. So, so, so cool. pic.twitter.com/dlSLEOlSaY— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) December 13, 2021
I set a personal record for the amount of hugs I gave everyone after this. pic.twitter.com/4IL985DvbV— Jonah Plymale (@Phasedout_II) December 13, 2021
As a final note, thanks for reading along during this wild ride of a 2021 season. One Big Tree (themed off the One Big Thing segment from Scott Van Pelt of ESPN, by the way) was my attempt at trying to pull a narrative out of every week in this roller coaster ride of an MLS season, put it in context, and ideally help enhance your experience of this team as well. I so greatly appreciate all of the views, comments, shares, feedback, etc. that all of y’all gave in this silly weekly rambling. Hopefully, something I wrote during these many months helped make this season a little more enjoyable for you, and I am forever grateful to everyone who took the time to read my many, many words.
Here’s to a well earned break, a productive offseason, and god-willing, doing all of this again next year. Rose City ‘Til I Die.