Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Timbers Earn Playoff Advantage With Leg 1 Win Over Sounders At Home

Why yes, we are the only club that matters. Why do you ask?
Portland Timbers matches against the Seattle Sounders FC are never easy, nor are they for the casual fan of soccer. Nothing drove this point home more than walking into Providence Park 45 minutes before the scheduled kick in their Leg 1 match of the Western Conference semi-final, and both supporters sections were overflowing with noise and songs. Portland and Seattle were meeting for the 103rd time in their lengthy history, but only for the second time were the sides battling in the MLS postseason. The last time they met in the postseason was 2013, and the Timbers, playing in their first season under then-Coach Caleb Porter, knocked off the veteran laden Sounders by a 5 to 3 aggregate score. Playing in front of another raucous sellout crowd at Providence Park, the Sounders took an early lead playing the first 10 minutes of soccer with solid pace, physical play and precise passing as the Timbers struggled to counter. However, Portland found their footing and played perhaps their best sequence of soccer all year in the remainder of the first half, putting in two goals and effectively silencing the Sounders attack. The score would remain 2 to 1 Portland through a tense second half that saw both sides struggle to capture the same intensity and precision, but the effort was enough for the Timbers to take the early lead in the two match series. Focus now turns to November 8 in Seattle for Leg 2, as the Sounders know they need at least 1 goal to even the series; however, the fact the Sounders have a road goal gives them an advantage should the 2 match series end level on goals. Portland, however, has confidence in having 2 wins against their rival in 2018 including a big win in June at Century Link Field under dramatic circumstances.

In 2018, Seattle again fell into their usual pattern of struggles to start the season, but after losing to the Timbers in Seattle and being 11 points adrift from the playoffs, the Sounders rallied to advance all the way to the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Ironically, it was the loss to the Timbers in June that seemed to galvanize the Sounders into a long unbeaten streak through July, August and September. Portland, meanwhile has been relatively consistent outside of a lengthy unbeaten streak from April to August that helped propel them to success under first year Coach Gio Savarese. It hasn't been all fun and games for either side, though, as there have been injuries and player adjustments that have affected the overall attack for each group. The Sounders reeled off five consecutive wins to finish the 2018 regular season, and Coach Brian Schmetzer has been pleased with the attack of Raul Ruidiaz (joined midseason in June), Nicolas Lodiero, Will Bruin, Cristian Roldan and Victor Rodriguez. It's a credit to Schmetzer and his team to find ways to replace injured scorer Jordan Morris and retired striker Clint Dempsey, and Schmetzer was hoping that his team could continue their hot streak.
I didn't think Jeff Attinella touched Cristian Roldan on this play.

Schmetzer decided to keep things relatively simple for his side, starting Stefan Frei in goal with Nouhou Tolo, Kim Kee-Hee, Chad Marshall and Kelvin Leerdam in defense. With Ozzie Alonso and Gustav Svensson manning the defensive midfield, Seattle would rely upon the attacking trio of Roldan, Rodriguez and Lodiero as the midfielders with Ruidiaz as the lone striker. Portland has found success recently by returning to the 4 defender, 2 defensive midfielder, 3 attacking midfielder, and 1 striker formation and Savarese went with virtually the same lineup as was used in the 2 match series with Real Salt Lake in October. Jeff Attinella would again start in goal, having fully recovered from the shoulder injuries that shelved him late in the season, with Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Bill Tuiloma and Zarek Valentin on defense with Larrys Mabiala unavailable after being ejected in the knockout round match against FC Dallas. With Diego Chara and David Guzman handling the defensive midfield duties, it would be up to Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Andy Polo as the attacking midfield and Jeremy Ebobisse as the striker to generate pressure on Frei. The recent battles between Chara and Alonso have been the stuff of legend with 2 of the very best defensive midfielders put on quite a show patrolling the middle, but with Chara on a caution from the FC Dallas match and 2 cautions triggering a suspension, a huge key for the Timbers would be to keep Chara from getting into any disciplinary trouble.

With Ted Unkel at the officiating controls, who has a reputation for being confident but unpredictable in his calls, the Sounders ramped up the pressure from the opening whistle as Lodiero and Alonso took turns executing fouls on Chara within the first few minutes. Ruidiaz was especially feisty and active with close misses in the 5th and 9th minute, while Roldan did his level best to cause trouble when he attacked the goal after the Ruidiaz miss in the 5th minute with Attinella charging to catch the spinning ball. There did appear to be light contact as Roldan went down awkwardly as Attinella tried to corrall the ball, but the shot spun out of play for a Seattle corner. VAR Official Allen Chapman contacted Unkel to have him review the contact using video replay, but even on the review, Unkel judged there was no foul on the play and the corner kick call would stand. Roldan would get some revenge in the 10th minute taking a ball from Rodriguez on the left with Tuiloma giving chase as Valentin was pulled in. Roldan was able to drop a cross into the box for Ruidiaz before Ridgewell could find the mark, and by that point, Raul had chipped the shot into the upper left corner of goal for an early 1 to 0 Sounders lead. With road goals being the first tiebreaker in the two match aggregate series should the teams finish the 2 match series tied in goals, this tally was huge for the visitors. It was a product of a very aggressive, deliberate attack plan and it looked to frustrate Portland as they couldn't find anything constructive to work from.

The Timbers youth showed very well in this match, especially Jeremy Ebobisse.
I'm not sure what flipped the switch for the Timbers, however, but since they are an extremely good club at the counter attack, they can put themselves back on track relatively quickly. In the 17th minute, Ridgewell corralled a 50/50 ball near midpitch and put a short pass over to Chara, who saw Valeri off to his left. The Maestro didn't keep the ball very long after receiving the pass, as Diego put a perfectly weighted ball to Ebobisse, who had made an expert run between Marshall and Kee-Hee in space and the offside flag stayed down as the youngster was first to the ball. Frei left his line to try and cover more space, but Ebobisse's shot was already away and tucked just inside the right post to level the score. On replay, the call was extremely close, but Unkel and his crew didn't make the call although VAR reviews every goal for accuracy and Chapman let the goal stand. After Ridgy missed with a header off a corner in the 23rd minute, Portland would take the lead in the 29th minute when Valeri broke down the middle off a turnover from Alonzo. With Kee-Hee and Marshall doing their best to stop Diego, the ball was deflected to Blanco, running on the left with Leerdam giving chase. Blanco settled it from right to left after a deflection, but created enough space and an angle to chip it past Frei into the same right corner for goal to put the Timbers up 2 to 1. The celebration within the stadium was so huge that the press box was shaking. The Timbers added more pressure with quality misses from Ebobisse in the 32nd, Guzman in the 33rd and 34th and a shot late by Polo in stoppage time, but the pressure kept Seattle slightly on their heels for the remainder of the half.

Another situation that added some hesistancy to the Seattle attack was the injury bug, as Roldan was unable to continue in the match after a few other bumps and was replaced in the 30th minute by Waylon Francis due to a groin injury. Seattle's issues grew bigger in the 40th minute when Marshall injured his knee taking a clearance, and he had to be stretchered off the pitch and replaced by Roman Torres. The Sounders nearly burned through all of their subs in the first half when during the seven minutes of stoppage time. Svensson and Guzman collided heads during a corner kick and both players spent several minutes on the pitch getting treatment. While they were able to return to their feet and finish the half, Guzman complained of dizziness after returning for the second half, and was eventually replaced by Lawrence Olum in the 50th minute. I thought Chara, Valeri and Blanco were the keys to the first half success for the Timbers, but it was Guzman and his 85 percent passing rate, stellar defense and good orgnaization that were the engine that fueled the 40 minutes plus of great soccer. I did wonder after the halftime break if the Timbers would be able to sustain the intensity and tempo they kept up in the first half, and Olum's entry unfortunately slowed down the entire attack. Thankfully for the Timbers, the Sounders were having their own issues on the offensive side.

With Larrys Mabiala unavailable, Bill Tuiloma stepped in and did very well.
Rodriguez got a gift in the 54th minute when an Olum backpass to Attinella with Ruidiaz chasing back went right to Lodiero instead of a Timber, but Victor's shot from the right off a pass was deflected away by Attienella for a corner. Lodiero and Ruidiaz had blocked shots in the 56th and 73rd minutes as the Timbers defense started to stiffen up for the stretch run, while Savarese made the call to replace Ebobisse with Lucas Melano in the final 15 minutes to see if his side could add a third to their scoreline. Valeri certainly gave it a run in the 76th minute from midpitch when Svensson gave him a bit of space, and the shot forced Frei to push it over the goal line for a corner kick. Portland thought they had added the magic third goal when Valeri played a pass to Villafana making a run, but the offside flag came up to stop the play despite Frei blocking Jorge's shot but missing out on Melano's rebound goal that was a thing of beauty. Blanco and Valeri executed a lovely one - two run that put Diego in the box with the ball, but he rushed his shot over the net and out of play. Rodriguez forced a save from Attinella in second half stoppage off a give and go of their own, but Jeff was up to the task to match the catch and keep the scoreline at 2 to 1 Timbers. Moments later, the final whistle blew and the fans could celebrate a hard fought victory.

The Timbers might be kicking themselves for not getting a third goal on the afternoon, but for stretches of the match, they simply dominated the pace and movement and Seattle couldn't match it. In a relatively baffling bit of news as well, the Timbers weren't cautioned at any point in the match so everyone is available; consider that the Sounders had targeted Chara with some early physical play, and Diego not only kept his composure and played his usual style for the entire match, he wasn't whistled for a foul at all. Portland effectively can advance to the conference finals with a win or draw in Seattle, and there are some scenarios where even a loss could advance them provided the Timbers score at least 1 goal on the road. Seattle has to feel good about the series not being too out of hand with just being down a goal and having a road goal to their credit for the series tiebreaker, but losing Roldan and Marshall to injury are key blows to an offense that needed some creativity at points. Roldan was the most effective winger for Seattle in his short stint, and there are questions if he can't go about who replaces this key playmaker for them. Suffice to say, the series is far from over and while both teams have positives to fall back on, there's enough question marks for each group to discourage a conservative approach to Thursday.

Liam Ridgewell shows frustration after the Sounders got their first goal.
For me, the first goal on Thursday changes the complexion for either side - Portland evens up the road tiebreaker for goals if they score first, forcing Seattle to play more aggresively, while a Seattle first goal gives them a serious advantage and reason to draw the game out. It would be difficult enough for injuries to heal given a week between the legs as originally scheduled, but due to a stadium conflict with a car show, Leg 2 is bumped up by 3 days to November 8 from November 11. The compression squeezes both sides greatly, but considering the key injuries for the Sounders, it will be intersting to see how they lineup. The winner will get an extended break (thank you MLS and your draconian playoff schedule) as they await the winner of Sporting Kansas City (1 seed) vs Real Salt Lake (6 seed) playing leg 2 on November 11. The lowest seed of the winners will host leg 1 on Sunday, November 25 with the return on Thursday, November 29; Real Salt Lake would host either Portland or Seattle if they advanced in leg 1, while Portland or Seattle would host leg 1 if it's Sporting that wins. The fact that it would potentially be 2 and a half weeks between competive soccer matches doesn't help anybody in this situation.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hey, Everybody, It's a Clip Show Preview

I am always glad when this guy is eligible for matches with the Flounders
I can't remember the last time I got up early and watched soccer that didn't have teams I was interested in, but today ended up being the day. With my wife and mother-in-law currently at a bazaar selling hand made crafts, it's me and the kitties at home and the television has been squarely on the soccer. It's also been a bit since I posted anything here on the site, and there's been a lot of news and notes about the Timbers. In the style of some of my favorite television shows that want to put out an episode without having a clear theme or idea, I give you a clip show post. Part of this is due to being very busy in the non-soccer world, as my corporate job has been a bit of a roller coaster lately. I'm getting to the age in life I'm paying closer attention to my retirement accounts because I'm getting closer to the age of not working. This realization has really struck me in the day and age we live in with near constant corporate changes, and it's hard to feel secure at times. I've always lived with the theory that as long as I have a name plate on a cube and a place where my stuff lives during the work week, that's a good feeling. Lately, however, that's been severely challenged - but that is due to the times we live in.
  • Hey, Tuesday is election day. It's weird now since I remember a time in Oregon where I actually had to go to polling places and cast a vote in person, but all that changed with Vote By Mail. It's a truly incredible feeling to be able to research issues and candidates, vote at your convenience, drop off the ballot at secure locations statewide, and get notified of your ballot status from creation to receipt. My civics teacher always said your vote is your voice, and I've always remembered that.
  • After the Timbers qualified for the postseason with a huge win over Real Salt Lake in their home regular season finale, I had wondered about what the Timbers would do in their final match on the road in Vancouver, especially since the numbers indicated Portland was nearly locked into the knockout round matches (3 seed hosting 6 seed, 4 hosting 5). Gio Savarese chose the conservative approach with his lineup going you, and the Timbers ended up losing the last match - but it ended up actually working out better than anyone could have expected in the long run. Hindsight can be a bitch, but sometimes sticking with the gut is the right call. 
    It won't be as sunny as it was earlier this year, but there will still be bule.
  • Portland ended up in the knockout round traveling to FC Dallas, a team that has traditionally had struggles late in most seasons. FCD could have avoided the knockout round completely, but they lost to Colorado, one of the worst teams in MLS this season, by conceding 2 late goals which put them in this situation. Many might not remember that just a few years ago, FCD was just moments away from pulling off a domestic competition championship trifecta - winning the Supporters' Shield, U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup in the same season - until their offense went sideways against the Flounders. It was the year that FCD fans thought they had avoided the swoon, but the team has been searching for consistency since being bounced from the playoffs that year.
  • Have you voted yet? It's really not that difficult. Seriously, I have written these words in the same time it took me to vote while researching some of the candidates. It's a simple investment into making our government work for us.
  • Playing on a Halloween night in the Dallas suburbs, Portland came into the match facing some rather difficult odds - in the previous 20 knockout round matches, only 5 times had the road team came away victorious. It certainly didn't look good early when FCD Brad Ziegler tapped in a goal off a deflection after a set piece, but the officiating caught the fact Ziegler was offside on the pass. Eventually. I know many folks said this was a pretty obvious call, but I'm convinced the assistant was a step behind the line and shaded by Jorge Villafana and Carlos Gruezo on the play, and simply didn't see Ziegler and Dominique Badji way offside. Thankfully, VAR caught the error, but that doesn't excuse why the assistant was behind the play in the first place.
    Timbers, can we have lots of this happen, please?
  • Portland turned in their own set piece magic courtesy of Diego Valeri in the 23rd minute, and I felt the momentum had really shifted from the home side. FC Dallas had to feel frustrated being just minutes from safety from the knockout round to now being behind a goal after one was disallowed. FCD certainly had chances as Michael Barrios spent most of the match running past everyone, but his shooting accuracy wasn't that consistent (as was most of his team).
  • The Timbers then put themselves in a hole when Larrys Mabiala was correctly ejected for pulling Badji down on a breakaway as the last defender when a pass sprung the speedy striker. Mabiala was beaten, and it was absolutely the right call, but Portland not only overcame the situation, but added a second goal when midfielder David Guzman put a pass to striker Jeremy Ebobisse on the counter. The youngster showed great composure to settle the ball with players moving about him, find Valeri coming in support and dropping a well timed pass, and let Diego do the rest. Valeri slammed it into goal, and the Timbers had a 2 goal lead.
  • I'm a little tired of the political ads, but honestly, it is the price of our democracy to allow candidates to put out their messages. I'm not sure how they come up with some of these names of who is responsible for these ads, but thankfully the Oregon Elections Manual is really good at giving background information on the candidates and measures in a measured, balanced way.
  • FC Dallas did make things interesting late after throwing numbers forward, but I thought Portland had played a well composed match even with playing 10 players. FC Dallas really hadn't shown anything until very late, and after absorbing that much pressure for that many minutes, I'm not surprised FCD broke through. But Portland rode out the storm to play another day, which ended up being the theme of the knockout round - 3 of the 4 knockout round matches in the 2018 MLS Playoffs were won by the road side, the lower seeded team. 
    Portland will need everyone to contribute in the playoffs, including these two.
  • Of course, it would be the Flounders. There is a point in every MLS season where the US based Cascadia rivals collide in a meaningful match outside of regular season action, but the soccer gods kept everyone from a Timbers - Sounders match in U.S. Open Cup play when the Sounders were eliminated in Round 3 by the Sacramento Republic. Seattle made the choice in the final weekend to play their strongest side against San Jose at home, and while the Earthquakes made it interesting late, Seattle ended up qualifying for one of the byes and avoiding the knockout round as LAFC and FC Dallas lost their respective matches. But with Real Salt Lake upsetting LAFC in the knockout round, the Western Conference semifinals turned into rivalry week redone as the Timbers would be paired with Seattle as Sporting Kansas City would battle Real Salt Lake in the other side.
  • None of the Western Conference teams really like the other sides, but if there was a pairing to rival Timbers - Sounders, it is SKC and Real Salt Lake. Their last match involved multiple ejections and several player confrontations, and I expect nothing less in this matchup. RSL have to be thanking their lucky stars, considering they didn't have a match in the final weekend of the regular season, and the Los Angeles Galaxy had a chance to knock them out by beating Houston in the final weekend at home. The Galaxy went up early, but the Dynamo charged back late to not only spoil the party for the Galaxy fans, but send RSL into the playoffs. 
    I expect SEA to focus on the Diegos, so Seba could have a huge series. 
  • A meeting with the Flounders always has some contention to it regardless of the date and time, but this playoff battle has several issues with it even before the matches have started. Portland doesn't have Mabiala available due to the ejection in the knockout round, plus Liam Ridgewell and Diego Chara are one caution away from a suspension in the playoffs due to playoff discipline rules (players can only receive 2 cautions between knockout round matches and the MLS Cup if they qualify). Having a solid defensive line is paramount for the Timbers to be successful, but as we all know, Chara's presence is nearly required for Portland to do well at any capacity. I'm fully expecting the Sounders to go right at Chara to see if they can disqualify him with the caution. Another key issue is the date of leg 2, as the Sounders' home pitch isn't available on November 11 due to a car show, so the match is actually being moved up to November 8 on Thursday. So the Timbers get 3 matches in 8 days, including 2 against one of their fiercest rivals. If they overcome this, it will be a huge confidence boost but it will only be due to a total team effort and making smart lineup choices.
  • Seriously, voting is really important. I get that might seem inconvenient, but the politicians should be working for the people and our vote is the voice that gives them direction. I'm not na├»ve enough to discount the corporate forces that influence politics right now, and many of them want the status quo to remain. However, that reality means more of the same that we've seen for the past 2 years since our last presidential election, and I, for one, want no part of that. We need true change, and many of the people on the ballots now are the instruments of that change, and they need our support.
  • I tried to get the cats to do predictions for tomorrow's match with the Flounders, but out of respect for our black cat, Moya, who we lost earlier this year to an unexpected illness, they want to wait until next season for doing their pieces. GB, however, was very excited about the Timbers' chances with a series of headbutts and purrs. He correctly predicted that Portland and Seattle would get the 2:30 PM time slot on November 4, and so I'm inclined to go with his gut on this.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Timbers Qualify For 2018 Postseason With Resounding Win Over Real Salt Lake

Diego Chara gives the Timbers some breathing room with his second half goal.
Since our last posting, there has been a lot of things that have transpired for the Portland Timbers that hasn't been covered here. Vacation with time off and a lengthy break in the MLS schedule will do that around here, but since Portland's scrappy win over the Columbus Crew at home back on September 20, Portland traveled to Minnesota United and lost, then drew at home in a scoreless deadlock with FC Dallas a week later where starting goalkeeper Jeff Attinella dislocated his shoulder during the affair. Similar situations have derailed previous Timbers seasons especially with the team having a trip to Real Salt Lake on October 7, a venue and club that has proven difficult to deal with in Utah over the years. However, Portland ended up posting their most impressive road victory of 2018 in dismantling RSL by a 4 to 1 score (yes, I know the victory in Flounder land was impressive but this one was bigger in my opinion) behind a brace from Sebastian Blanco and goals from Jeremy Ebobisse and Lucas Melano. The result was far more impressive considering that the Timbers took the lead, RSL drew level after getting some well generated chances, and then the Timbers poured it on late for the final tally. The same two sides would meet in Portland 2 weeks later where Portland has made it their goal to dominate, and keeping with their theme, the Timbers turned in another dominant effort by posting a 3 to 0 victory to finish their home regular season matches for 2018.

The victory ensured that Portland will be playing in the 2018 MLS Post Season being the fifth side to secure qualification behind current number 1 seed in the West Sporting Kansas City, second seeded LAFC, third seeded FC Dallas and fourth seeded Seattle. The final berth will be determined during the final week between RSL, who finished their 2018 season in the loss at Portland, and the Los Angeles Galaxy, who must beat Houston at home to jump RSL for the sixth spot. Considering that the last weekend features a battle between Sporting Kansas City and LAFC, there could be movement among the top spots in the West right up until the final whistles. SKC has the most points and a win secured the top berth, while LAFC and FCD are tied at 57 points with LAFC getting the tiebreaker for now. Portland has the chance to jump up in the table with a win in Vancouver, but they would need to depend upon Colorado to defeat FC Dallas and San Jose to upend the Sounders in Seattle. Granted, anything is possible right now, but at the time of this posting, Portland is currently in fifth, meaning they would travel to Seattle for the opening round play-in match on October 31 or November 1 with the winner hosting LAFC on November 4 in leg 1 of the 2 leg conference semi-finals with leg 2 occuring on November 11. Considering the Timbers up and down season up to this point, having a playoff berth is quite an achievement but I don't think anybody on Coach Gio Savarese's side is content with just qualification.

Jeremy Ebobisse got the start and drove the RSL defense crazy.
Savarese has been pulling the various strings down the stretch to maximize points and results, and has stuck with the 4 defender - 2 defensive midfielder - 3 attacking midfielders - 1 forward formation during the past few weeks with some minor squad rotation. With Attinella still recovering from the shoulder dislocation, it was Steve Clark in goal for the Timbers with Attinella available as the bench sub. Defensively, Savarese gave Jorge Villafana, Zarek Valentin and Larrys Mabiala the starts on the backline, but he brought on veteran Liam Ridgewell as the second center back with Bill Tuiloma and Alvas Powell sitting on the bench. Tuiloma was a big reason behind the defensive success versus RSL in Utah, but Savarese chose the experience of Ridgewell to provide some stabiilty and experience versus an RSL side that has shown recent bouts of offensive explosions. In the midfield, Savarese put in his most experienced defensive midfielders in David Guzman and Diego Chara with Lawrence Olum available as the sub, while putting the trio of Andy Polo, Diego Valeri and Blanco forth as the attacking midfielders. Ebobisse has been the current choice of strikers and Jeremy got the start here again, but Samuel Armenteros and Lucas Melano were available as subs if needed. With Andres Flores filling the last sub spot on the bench, this was likely the strongest group available for Portland, and Savarese wanted to make sure his team didn't digress. Portland also had some suspension concerns with both Guzman and Chara one match away from a suspension if they received a caution in this match.

RSL's playoff hopes took a huge hit with the loss to Portland, but they could put pressure on the Galaxy in their home finale on October 18 by defeating New England. Midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Sunny were unavailable in that match for disciplinary reasons and other regulars were just returning from international matches, but RSL used a copped together lineup and thrashed the Revolution by a 4 to 1 tally. With Beckerman and Sunny avaialble again and key players Joao Plata, Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Justin Glad all back and rested from the break, RSL Coach Mike Petke had his full compliment of players at the ready. Damir Kreilich, Rusnak and forward Corey Baird were held in check by the Timbers in leg 1 although usual Timbers killer Plata figured into the 1 goal that RSL put up, but with all the players fully fit and another Timbers hurdle in Rimando in the starting eleven, Petke had to like his side's chances going into the weekend. RSL's offense has alternated between stagnant and fluid depending whether Beckerman and Sunny were able to go, and considering both defensive midfielders were ready to go, this would be an interesting chess battle in the middle. The battles between Beckerman and Guzman/Chara have become quite testy over the years, and there was still some bad blood after Beckerman pulled Guzman down during the match in a headlock and escaped the scrutiny of the officials for his actions.

Lucas Melano entered the match late and earned an assist in his short stint.
If there were any questions about the intensity of the match, they were answered in the opening minutes when Portland earned a free kick just outside the box. While Valeri struck the ball well heading towards the box, Guzman was absolutely flattened in the melee and remained on the ground until center official Ismail Elfath stopped play as the Timbers regained possession and continued to attack the goal. Beckerman and Valeri traded close misses to goal in the 9th and 10th minute, the Timbers broke open the scoring in the 15th minute off another free kick. Taking the ball from left to right, Valeri put a diagonal ball towards the right post on the south side where Mabiala and Ridgewell were lurking, and Mabiala was able to outflank RSL centerback Marcelo Silva for the ball and put a shot on target. The ball slid just past Rimando into the goal as the RSL keeper was slow to react to the play, and the Timbers were celebrating the early 1 to 0 lead. Blanco continued to hound the goal with a close range miss in the 17th minute while Ebobisse was very busy creating space and passes in the offense when Portland could find room to move. RSL was content to pressure Chara and Guzman and flood the middle with Sunny and Beckerman clogging the channels by any mean's possible. Beckerman's tactics earned him a caution in the 27th minute when he flattened Guzman at mid pitch, and the Timbers crowd were keying on number 5 for RSL every where he went on the pitch.

Number 5 nearly put his name on the scoring sheet in the 44th minute off a corner kick from Plata where he outleapt Guzman for the ball and put a header on target with some pace. Clark was able to palm the ball away and Mabiala cleared it out with a header for a second corner kick that generated a close miss for Savarino, but RSL wasn't able to get their goal before the break. RSL came out after the break and generated two huge chances - a 49th minute play where Sunny intercepted a pass from Chara to Valeri on the break and the Timbers lost track of Plata as Sunny punched the ball to RSL fullback Brooks Lennon. As Lennon put a cross over to him on the left hand flank. Plata punched the ball into the south deck and completely out of play for a bad miss. RSL got a point blank shot in the 52nd minute off another corner when Plata's restart found Beckerman, who bumped the ball over to Glad, who was standing near the right post open as Ebobisse moved forward to try and deflect the ball. As Ridgewell tried to move in to deflect the ball, Glad punched a shot on frame that Clark pushed over the bar for a huge reaction save. RSL couldn't believe they missed the shot, while Clark celebrated the deflection with his teammates.

Steve Clark made several huge saves to earn the shutout & get a slab
Rusnak put another missile shot at Clark in the 60th minute off another corner kick that the Timbers keeper was able to block it away, and it was appearing that the RSL pressure might eventually pay off with a goal. Portland, however, was finally able to counter in the 62nd minute when Polo was able to shake off a defender and streak down the left channel with Villafana in support. Once Andy got to the box, he dropped a back heel pass to Jorge, who kept his run going and put a cross in the goal area for Blanco for an easy tap in. Sebastian, however, chipped the ball over the bar, but it was enough to relieve some of the offensive pressure that RSL had been exerting since the halftime break. The 69th minute saw Portland finally get some breathing room as the ball spun out to midpitch with Ebobisse settling as Valeri ran by. Jeremy decided to hold the ball and punch it out wide right for Blanco for a run in space, but unbeknown to everyone on the RSL side, Chara broke down the middle untouched for a clean run on goal. Blanco put the pass to Diego with Rimando forced to leave his line, and while Nick did force Chara to move slightly right, Diego was able to collect the ball and punch it into the open net to extend the lead to 2 to 0. You could feel the sense of relief by the Timbers as they were finally able to breathe a bit after the extended RSL pressure.

The final 20 minutes saw Portland push to add more to their total. Polo tried his luck from a tight angle in the 82nd minute as he was able to get to the touch line with just Rimando to beat, and the ball caromed off the keeper towards the goalline but RSL was able to push it away. Blanco and Valentin broke down the right in the 84th minute off a superb run, and when RSL couldn't clear the threat, Valentin fed Blanco with a nice pass and Seba forced Rimando into a huge reaction save to block the ball away. Rimando wasn't lucky enough minutes later when Blanco would get his goal off a lovely pass from substitute Melano, who replaced Ebobisse, when Valeri fed Lucas in the middle of the pitch with RSL scrambling. Lucas held the ball and waited to space or players to open up, and he was able to find Blanco wide open. Sebastian did have to outflank Glad and Rimando for the shot, but Seba was able to calmly slot the ball in to extend the lead to 3 to 0. The result meant that Portland had qualified for the postseason breaking the long standing even year curse that has been plaguing the team for years.

Savarese was able to celebrate the big win in the regular season home finale.
The Timbers were not able to secure any information about their fate though upon reviewing the other scores going on as Sporting had defeated FC Dallas, Seattle had beated Houston, the Galaxy beat Minnesota United to keep their playoffs alive, and LAFC drew with Vancouver. The results left Portland in fifth where they started the day, but with Sporting and LAFC playing in the final week and the teams currently sitting at 1 and 2 in the West, there will likely be movement there. All matches in the final week kick off at 1:30 PM Portland time, so while Portland will be playing Vancouver to finish their year, they will be paying attention to FC Dallas - Colorado, Seattle - San Jose and Galaxy - Dynamo. Portland can achieve 57 points by winning and have the goal differential tiebreaker with FC Dallas, but LAFC has a big goals scored advantage over both sides. MLS tiebreaker rules are points, then total wins followed by goal differential, followed by goals for, so the final playoff seedings could come down to the wire.  Portland had done their part to secure the berth, and as we have seen in playoff runs, anything can truly happen once the post season begins. The Timbers have to feel very good about their chances considering their offense has been improving from week to week, the defense has found their form, and despite injuries, the team has seen several players step in and play well when called upon to.

It is rather unsettling, however, that the finale against RSL could indeed be the last match in Providence Park for the 2018 Timbers season though. If Portland is unable to overtake anybody, they would be traveling for the play in match and would only earn a home match if they were able to advance. And it's that fact that seemed to resonate with several players during the proceedings. Ridgewell seemed very focused and emotional as rumors persist whether he will remain in Portland, and he brought out his recently born daughter during the anthem to celebrate her arrival with the home fans. With the Timbers Army doing their usual end of season tifo individualized for each player and Blanco winning the Supporter's Player of the Year award after a vote of the supporters, there seemed to be much emotion in the air that this could be the final gathering for 2018 at Providence Park. I, however, don't think so and feel we will get another chance to chant and sing for victory, but as with everyone, we won't know much until the matches complete next Sunday. But for one sunny afternoon in front of another sell out crowd, the Timbers and their fans could celebrate and bask in the accomplishments of the 2018 season and look forward to the next round of fun.