Some days, you get the park and wonder if your team is going to have enough. On Wednesday night against Montreal, for instance, the Portland Timbers weren't packing enough power to kick over a fruit stand.
But on Sunday morning at Providence Park, with Seattle in town ahead of this year's first installment of the loudest, nastiest, most deeply felt rivalry in American soccer, there was never any reason to be nervous. No reason to wonder at all.
One look at the names on the Caleb Porter's team-sheet told you all you needed to know. Valeri. Adi. Nagbe. Chara. Jewsbury. Borchers. Ridgewell. Champions last year, money always. Seattle, sans Clint Dempsey through no one's fault but his, wasn't going to have enough. Turns out, they were every bit the last place team they've been all season.
When it finally finished, through a haze of red smoke, the scoreboard read Timbers 3, Sounders 1. Diego Valeri, MLS' best player so far in 2016, was peerless. His compatriot Lucas Melano burned his way to a pair of assists, and the Sounders were sent slinking back up the I-5 wondering how a rivalry that they once dominated has gotten so out of hand.
As Porter framed it after the game, this is what the Timbers are capable of when they have their whole team healthy and available. Ten of the eleven players who started on Sunday contributed to last season's title, and the odd man out, Jermaine Taylor, pitched in with his best performance of the season at right back.
Plenty of teams have taken a hammer to the Sounders this year, but it's clear that the Timbers still have their championship gear. What they most certainly have is a championship player.
In the three games the Timbers played this month without Valeri in the lineup, they scored just a single time from a corner kick and not at all from the run of play. On Sunday, it was easy to see just what the Maestro means to this Timbers team.
Against the backdrop of an awe-inspiring tifo from the Timbers Army — a riff on Seattle's deservedly ill-fated "Welcome To Your Nightmare" display from the 2013 playoffs — the game started in the vein of most derbies: Fast, intense, and not particularly well played.
But it was the Timbers' quality that would eventually tell. Darlington Nagbe had an effort cleared off the line by Brad Evans, and soon after, the Argentines went to work. Melano and Valeri combined to free space for the former to slip in the latter, who curled his shot around Stefen Frei to give Portland the lead just before the break.
Some five minutes after halftime, Valeri was at it again — this time taking a cross-field switch from Taylor off his chest and arching a shot off the far post and in from an impossible angle. Valeri claimed afterwards that it was indeed a shot not a cross, but either way, it was a stupendous piece of skill.
Valeri's reaction to the goal was to shake his head and smile, while the increasingly hopeless Schmid buried his head in his hands. Valeri is unplayable when he's on. He's magnetic — not just in his soccer, but also in his personality. The team followed him.
Seattle did pull a goal back on a corner through Chad Marshall — despite the best efforts of Jake Gleeson, who was, once again, outstanding — but the warning shot only served to spark the Timbers back into high gear.
Just minutes later, Melano picked up the ball outside of his penalty area, gulped up eighty yards like it was a can of Coke, stayed composed as Fanendo Adi worked himself back onside, and slipped it to the big man for his first goal since the Real Salt Lake game thirty days ago.
The goal was, it should be noted, no more than Adi deserved. The striker has always relished battling Marshall, and he was at his domineering best on Sunday — battling for space, holding play up, and creating all kinds of matchup problems along the backline.
Similar accolades could not be heaped upon Seattle's DP forward Nelson Valdez, who most resembled a sack of flour. Jordan Morris, the young Stanford product, blew a terrific early chance in front of the South End and wasn't much better.
Adi's goal was his fifth in his three home games against the Sounders. More than that, though, the whole of Adi's performance in this one clearly illustrated both why he's likely gone to greener pastures at the end of the season, and why the Timbers will miss him so much.
There aren't ten Adis floating around the league. Smart coaches — New York's Jesse Marsch, for instance, consider the Nigerian to be the best striker in MLS. There aren't ten Melanos around either. He's still not polished, but the Argentine's pace ensures that if he stays engaged, he'll get five opportunities a game. If he makes two tell, he'll continue to be an incredibly dangerous player.
If Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter saw just one game like Melano played on Sunday when they were in the scouting process, it's not hard to imagine that they told his former club Lanus to name its price. Melano even pitched in defensively against Seattle, crucially pinning Tyrone Mears deep.
Seattle came out with enough fight, but after Adi's goal, they went quietly. Osvaldo Alonso picked up his traditional yellow card for American football tackling Darlington Nagbe, but outside of Marshall and Brad Evans, the rest of his aging, listless team didn't have much of anything to offer.
It was a comfortable finish for the Timbers, who knocked the ball around the park and soaked in an occasion that was a fantastic advertisement for the city, the league, and the sport.
They played a complete game. Defensively, the Timbers were solid — Alvas Powell had one of his better games of the season, Nat Borchers was flawless, and Jack Jewsbury and Ben Zemanski combined for ninety solid minutes next to the characteristically excellent Diego Chara. It's a unit that has only conceded twice in its last four outings and just once from open play.
It was a hugely satisfying afternoon. But make no mistake — there was nothing surprising about this Timbers rout, just as there's no longer any element of little brother with the Timbers in this rivalry. Portland has the better players, the better coach, and the only trophy that matters.
Considering where both teams were when Porter took over three-and-a-half years ago, that's a truly remarkable turnaround.
The manager would say that he's only as good as his players, and that, to a certain extent, is the truth. If Schmid gets fired, he'll have plenty to say about GM Garth Lagerway. Right now, there's no question that he'd trade all three of his DPs for Valeri.
Valeri, of course, isn't going anywhere. He's all Portland's. There are plenty of great players in the world — Dempsey, for one — but this one is special. The gold star on Freddy's sweater in the tifo? Valeri, with his daughter, painted it.
The whole operation hummed on Sunday. Team. Town. Timbers Army. Seattle never had a prayer.