Call it managing expectations.
Back in March, the party line from the Portland Timbers was: this is a new team in a new season, but it is our goal to make the playoffs.
In April the verbiage changed a little. The team was sitting on a record of 3-1-4 at the end of the month and had just come off a high flying road win over Sporting Kansas City. The team was playing confidently and suddenly it was not the goal to make the playoffs, but the the expectation.
As May rolled around the Timbers still had not lost since the second week of the season and they seemed to be keeping up their momentum, making their way to a record of 5-1-7. The month's two wins were over basement dwellers DC United and Chivas USA, but that did not stop the enthusiasm for the team across the league. Now the CONCACAF Champions League was the team's stated goal.
June saw the apex of the team's performances this season with another two wins and two ties boosting the Timbers to 7-1-9 and putting them into the record books as having he of the longest unbeaten runs in MLS history. The table and numerous power rankings had the Timbers at number one and someone went and mentioned the Supporters Shield. Caleb Porter was talking about it, the players were talking about it, and the fans were definitely talking about it.
In July the streak broke. The Timbers' 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew seemed like a disappointment, but something that could be bounced back from; and the Timbers did bounce back, taking down the LA Galaxy in their next game with an emotional 2-1 victory grabbed in stoppage time. It seemed like the Timbers had already moved on from their second defeat of the season. The surge did not last however, as the team put in two disappointing performances on the road to close out the month, tying The Philadelphia Union and losing to the San Jose Earthquakes.
Somewhere in there, Caleb Porter stopped talking about the Supporters Shield and went back to the goal at the start of the season: making the playoffs.
It almost seems like a given after the team briefly stood on top of the ladder in the middle of season, but this is a tight race. The Timbers fell to fourth place over their bye weekend and are currently only two points out of seventh. The team in seventh place? FC Dallas, the team that the Timbers were jockeying with for first place earlier in the year.
The players still have their heads up, however, and amongst the coach's emphasis on making the playoffs, every once in a while someone will mention the Supporters Shield.