The press release went out at 3:41 p.m. Goose Hollow time: The Timbers are in.
We're LIVE at J-WF, where the playoff-bound, first-place Portland Timbers host nemesis Real Salt Lake in a match that's by no means a formality.
"Gee, thanks, Seattle," chorused Soccer City, USA when the Sounders loss at Dallas today clinched PTFC's first postseason berth as a Major League Soccer franchise. One year removed from finishing third from the bottom of the league, the Timbers have not only extended their 2013 campaign—they have legitimate designs on winning this whole damn thing.
But first! The only team to defeat the Timbers twice this season slips into The Jelly carrying one less point but eyeing just as many possibilities. The winner puts their best foot forward on claiming the Western Conference title and home-pitch advantage in the MLS playoffs. They also stay in the running for the league's best record and the Bedazzle-encrusted Supporters' Shield that comes with it.
And while one side is running hot, the other is hoping tonight will bring a late-season kick-start. RSL has scored just twice in five games and hasn't played since Oct. 5. PTFC is unbeaten in six straight and has four straight shutout wins at home, sweet home.
"We’re peaking at the right time," said Timbers coach Caleb Porter earlier this week. "We're confident right now, and that's what you want."
You know what else you want? Lots of words about what's likely to be a freewheeling slugfest between two teams that have combined for 15 goals this season. Right? Yes! So click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe the action—on and off the pitch.
PREGAME: Home-field advantage is big enough. But when that home field is the old Multnomah Stadium, it's bigger than Donovan Ricketts' gloves.
Portland has picked up points in 15 of 16 matches in front of Timbers Army this year thanks to an stout 11-1-4 home mark and zero losses here since March. But if anyone has proven to be PTFC's foil this year, it's RSL. The Claret and Cobalt are 2-0-1 against the Green and Gold, including a victory that knocked the Timbers out of the US Open Cup.
Salt Lake (15-7-10, 52 points)—Nick Rimando in goal. (Former Timber) Lovel Palmer, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert on defense. Yordany Alvarez, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil at midfield. Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley up front.
Rounding out the 18: Jeff Attinella, Tony Beltran, Carlos Salcedo, Cole Grossman, Khari Stephenson, Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval.
Javier Morales—who leads RSL in assists—is not in the lineup. He and defender Abdoulie Mansally are suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Two US national teamers— Beckerman and Rimando—are back with the team after being out on International duty.
Portland (13-5-14, 53 points)—Donovan Ricketts in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Kah and Michael Harrington on defense. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Kalif Alhassan and Will Johnson at midfield. Jose Valencia and Darlington Nagbe up front.
Rounding out the 18: Milos Kocic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Sal Zizzo, Rodney Wallace, Ben Zemanski, Ryan Johnson, Frederic Piquionne.
After four straight starts, forward Max Urruti is not the lineup tonight after straining his hamstring against Seattle last week. Valeri, however, is in, despite a tender adductor. Ouch.
We'll have some tifo tonight: Ropes are hanging from high above the North End, and a red banner hangs from the main capo stand. First kick is set for 7:30ish, and it'll be played under clear skies and a fullish, orange moon.
The Timbers PA announcer hold a moment of silence for Duane Graf, a longtime TA who died on Sept. 29 after a car accident. Classy move.
There are fireworks off in the distance below that moon, and it looks like we'll have more pyrotechnics on the field: Three green boxes in the South end of the pitch looked all wired up for boomage.
FIRST HALF: Timbers headed toward their Army...and away we go!
1st minute—Valeri knocked to the turf by Schuler on the first challenge of the night. Timbers keep it and Nagbe tries to dribble ahead into the box, but it's taken away.
3rd—Gil taken down just inside midfield and it'll be a free kick for RSL. Beckerman plays it short to Wingert, who tries a long ball just to the right of the goal for Findley. He gets a foot on it, but Will Johnson was there to bother him enough.
5th—A bit of danger by RSL as they lob a couple into the box. Johnson again clears and it springs Trencito on a counter. It eventually goes to Valeri at the top of the box, but he can't get past a double-team and RSL takes over.
8th—Trencito with some fancy footwork at the top of the box before finding Alhassan. He has one from 20 yards left-footed, but gets a bit too much under it. Goal kick, RSL.
10th—First corner of the night goes to Portland after Valeri plays a nice ball into the box that's kicked over the line. Johnson sends it in to an unmarked Danso, but his well-struck header is kicked away. Nice chance there for Portland, which exposed a crack in RSL's set-piece D.
11th—Gil gets on the end of a dangerous cross into the box, but it's off the mark. Another good chance for RSL in the early going.
13th—Timbers free kick from about 45 yards out is airmailed by Will Johnson.
14th—Nagbe fouled hard by Palmer in the Northwest corner. Free kick coming. Will Johnson sends it in hot and Saborio heads it high before Palmer clears it away.
17th—Timbers play a little header-ping-pong in their own box before Jewsbury finally gets it on his feet and clears. Back at midfield, Chara fouls Beckerman and gets a bit of the business from the ref.
18th—Scary ball into the box made scarier as Findley out-leaps the taller Kah and heads it over the bar. Goal kick coming for Portland.
20th—Valeri pokes one into the Northwest corner to stretch the field and spring Trencito. He gets to it and tries to play it off Alvarez, but he gets the best of Trencito and earns a throw. Timbers take it right back and Alhassan fires another shot, but it slides in front of the net and over the line.
24th—Dangerous free kick coming after Kah kicks high and apparently catches Findley in the face. Beckerman lining it up and from the corner of the box and sends it in too strong to be dangerous. Timbers mark up well and it's knocked back to RSL's backline.
26th—Jewsbury called for a foul about 40 yards out on Findley. Another dangerous free kick coming. It's Beckerman, who sends it in and Schuler gets a header on it that skates just wide. Close call there for Portland.
27th—A lovely Valeri flick in the box springs Nagbe, who blasts a shot off Wingert's chest. That'll leave a mark.
29th—Timbers nearly net one, all set up by a great ball from Ricketts. It starts with a long ball looking for Findley that Ricketts comes off his line to chest down and clear. That ball springs the counter, led by Trencito, who crosses into the box. Nagbe appears to have a look in front, but dummies it for Valeri. He gets a foot on it, but it soars on him. Great sequence there for the Timbers, who are doing well to keep their shape and keep up their aggression.
34th—Saborio levels Johnson with an forearm right in front of RSL's bench. Johnson had already played the ball away and Saborio came in with an arm to the back of the Timbers captain's head. No yellow there, which is a tad surprising.
36th—Gil pops one into the box and Ricketts plays it like a centerfielder. Closest thing to a can of corn you'll see in footy.
38th—Jewsbury sends a screaming right-footed cross to the top of the six-yard box. Valeri nearly gets on the end of it, but Rimando is there to step in front and send Valeri spinning. Nice ball by Cap'n Jack and Valeri nearly put the Timbers ahead.
41st—Gil sends a cross to the back post for nobody in particular. Timbers are about to start a counter when Chara is fouled near midfield. He's back on his feet and it'll be a free kick for Portland.
43nd—Timbers nearly net one! Trencito makes a fantastic turn along the endline and touches it back to Alhassan, who slides toward it and just misses getting a boot on it in front of an open net. Valencia set it up and might've done better to take a shot himself there. Still, great opportunity for Portland and Trencito is playing with a lot of confidence.
45th—Back-to-back corner kicks for RSL. Second one is sent into the box and Saborio is called for a foul after pulling down Futty.
HALFTIME: We're scoreless. An entertaining first 45 despite a lack of goals and on-frame shots. Timbers had some good chances just before the half, but RSL had longer stretches of controlling the action.
Some stats: RSL wins the possession battle with 56.7% and claims 55% of the duels. They also out-shot Portland 5-3. Neither put one on target.
SECOND HALF: And we're back at it! No changes for either side. Timbers headed toward the MAC.
47th—First free kick of the half is hammered by Johnson, and it's a switch too far for Harrington, who can't quite chase it down.
50th—Valeri finds Nagbe running down the East sideline. He tries to get around the corner but his last touch is a bit too strong, forcing him to run over the line and nearly crash into the advertising board.
52nd—Will Johnson with a steal. He passes to midfield for Valeri, who's flipped over by Wingert. Looked like a solid tackle there by Wingert, who got the ball first then slid beneath Valeri. The latter went down in a heap on his back, but it looked a little uglier than it probably was, as Valeri is now back on his feet.
57th—Beckerman chips one into the box for Findley, who's defended well by Jewsbury. Findley gets a header on it, but it's no trouble for Ricketts.
60th—Harrington sends a cross into the box for Trencito, who gets a nice little left-footed volley off that goes just wide. RSL on the counter and Findley cracks a shot, but it's deflected by Futty and no problem for Ricketts.
63rd—First sub of the night for Portland. Wallace comes on for Valeri.
65th—WHAT A SAVE BY RIMANDO! Valencia with a brave header that springs Jewsbury. He crosses into the box for Alhassan, who gets a foot on it, but Rimando is in perfect position to grab it and not allow a rebound. Trencito is still down after that one, and Jewsbury is calling for the medical staff.
66th—It looks like Trencito's forehead caught the back of Wingert's head. Both are down but sitting up.
68th—Valencia back up. He has a cut over his left eye. The Timbers will sub him out. Piquionne is on.
70th—RSL looks like they might have something going as Grabavoy gets it at the top of the box, but Futty swoops in to clear it away.
71st—Grabavoy fouled at midfield by Chara just inside midfield. RSL will use the break to bring on Plata for Findley.
73rd—Piquionne with a cross in front, but Chara is tied up by Beckerman before both go crashing into the ad board. They exchange pleasantries, and it'll be a goal kick for RSL.
74th—Wallace is tripped up by Alvarez, who then stands over Wallace as he rolls around. Johnson doesn't like that and gives him a shove. Neither does the ref, and it'll be a yellow card for Alvarez.
75th—Free kick sent in nicely by Johnson, and it's headed over the bar by an RSL player. Corner follows, but it's nothing doing for Portland. Nagbe ends up with it but it's taken away.
76th—Wallace earns Portland yet another corner. Johnson sends it in and Palmer tries to clear but it hits his teammate. Kah ends up with it and tries to flip it in front, but it lands on the top of the net. Goal kick, RSL and things are getting tight here.
79th—Harrington sends a great ball into the box for Piquionne, but he JUUUUUUUST misses it. Rimando gathers, but Piquionne was a step away from netting one there. Portland really controlling the action now. Salt Lake brings it down and earns a corner when Grabavoy makes a run and fires one off Jewsbury.
80th—Plata sends it in low and fast and Piquionne strongly heads it away. Not the best ball by Plata there.
82nd—Timbers with a throw and Wallace earns a corner as Beckerman heads it over hte line. Johnson sends it to the far post for both Futty and Kah, but neither can get a solid header on it.
83rd—Beckerman fires one from 35 out, but it's wide of the net. Did Harrington deflect it? Apparently not, as Ricketts lines up the goal kick. RSL gets it back and Saborio lines one up, but his shot is mishit and Portland will have another goal kick.
85th—Chara picks up a yellow after he catches Saborio with a high boot. He walks over the Saborio and gives him a little pat on the cheek.
86th—Beckerman hits a soft one into the box and Ricketts runs out to grab it. He tries to spring the counter but RSL takes it away immediately.
87th—Wingert fouls Nagbe in a dangerous spot, about 25 yards out. Before we kick, Zizzo will come on for Alhassan.
88th—Johnson floats it in for Futty, who's cut off by Rimando. The latter grabs it and Futty nearly runs into the post.
89th—Johnson slips behind the defense, but he's called offside.
90th—Nagbe with a run and looks for Wallace. It's cleared over the sideline and we'll have a quick throw. Ball sent into Piquionne, who gets an on-frame header on it, but Rimando is there for the save.
Five minutes of stoppage...Gil runs ahead and nearly gets into the box, but Kah is able to muscle him off the ball...Piquionne earns a free right outside the box as Schuler drags him down. Timbers with a big-time chance here...Johnson can probably shoot here as RSL lines up a five-man...Johnson sends in a scorcher on-target and RIMANDO WITH A SAVE! Rebound goes to Zizzo, who heads it on-frame, AND RIMANDO KNOCKS IT AWAY! What a sequence for the RSL keeper, who saves the match—twice—for his side.
FULL TIME: It's a scoreless tie in a match that felt like a playoff game. Portland nearly stole it at the end there, but Rimando keeps things level with some cat-like stops in the waning seconds.