(Photo courtesy of Ray Terrill)

Press Box Perspective: Chopping a path towards the MLS Cup

The Portland Timbers return to the playoffs and get to the championship in style

By PETER MELLING

The Portland Timbers, in spite of issues with inconsistencies in their win-loss record and in player performance, managed to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and go all the way to the MLS Cup. How did they manage this return to form?

After a less-than-impressive 2014 season in a stacked MLS Western Conference (12-9-13), the Timbers decided to make some significant moves in regards to their roster. They acquired Argentine star Lucas Melano from Club Atlético Lanús, Nat Borchers from Real Salt Lake, and Adam Larsen Kwarasey from Ghana. The Timbers also tried to expedite the return of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson from injuries they suffered last season. These moves paid off well, as Borchers and Melano contributed four and two goals, respectively. Melano also added three assists, and Kwarasey made 90 saves (which was a huge boost for team that struggled defensively all throughout last season). The returns of Valeri and Johnson also boosted the team, with Valeri scoring three goals in the 25 games he started as a midfielder.

There were also some breakout performances by members of the team. Fanendo Adi scored 19 goals over the course of the season, and Alvas Powell maintained strong defensive play in throughout the season and in tough situations. Thanks to four wins in their last six regular season games (mixed in with one loss and one draw), the Timbers finished third in the Western Conference and qualified for the playoffs.

The playoffs have had many exciting moments for Timbers Army. In the first round, the Timbers found themselves locked into an 11-round penalty shootout against one of the oldest clubs in the league, Sporting Kansas City. After maintaining a stalemate, Portland ultimately clinched on a penalty kick and deflection from Kwarasey against Kansas City’s goalkeeper. In the conference semi-final, Portland defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps by an aggregate score of 2-0, scoring both of those two goals in the second leg match in Vancouver. The first game of that series was particularly defense-heavy, with Jake Gleeson of the Timbers putting up three saves and David Ousted of the Whitecaps netting six saves. Portland then moved on to face FC Dallas, the Western Conference’s top seed, in the conference championship. The Timbers exploded for three goals in a 3-1 victory against Dallas in leg one, and battled Dallas to a 2-2 draw in leg two (with both Adi and Melano scoring goals), winning the round by an aggregate score of 5-3. In getting past Kansas City, Vancouver and Dallas, Portland can complete their ascent from their United Soccer Leagues period, and earn their right to be amongst the premier teams in the MLS.

The Timbers will play in their first MLS Cup in franchise history, against Columbus Crew SC, who will be playing in their first MLS Cup since their championship against the New York Red Bulls in 2008. This is an exciting shift away from the traditional powers in the MLS, like Sporting Kansas City and the Los Angeles Galaxy. The MLS Cup match will be hosted at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium, and will take place on Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN.

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