But the Portland Timbers did have Diego Valeri, Jeff Attinella, and a whole lot of moxie when it mattered it most — and their reward on a cool, rainy Wednesday night in Frisco was a smash-and-grab 2-1 win over FC Dallas that seals their second straight trip to the Western Conference Semifinals.
It was a vintage playoff game: a scramble from start to finish, chippy, intense, and, in the end, decided by the best player on the field.
Valeri got both goals, one on either side of halftime, the first an exquisite free-kick, and his teammates held on after Larrys Mabiala was sent off just short of the hour mark for the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity. Dallas finally pulled a goal back deep into stoppage time, but couldn't find a second.
The victory is Portland's first in the playoffs since MLS Cup 2015, and the first of Giovani Savarese's tenure at the helm of the club.
But it wasn't at all straightforward.
Dallas had the ball in the back of the net from a set piece after just 12 minutes on Reto Ziegler's redirection of an initial header from his center back partner Matt Hedges, but the goal was ruled out for an offside infraction against the Swiss import.
For a Dallas team that has struggled mightily of late, it didn't bode well to see an opening goal come off the board — and sure enough, ten minutes later, Valeri had given the Timbers the lead with an arrow of a free kick.
A lovely bit of work from Sebastian Blanco earned his compatriot the opportunity from roughly 25 yards on the left corner of the box, and Valeri's take beat Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez high to his nearside.
Dallas had been controlling the game before the goal, but they clamped down after they fell behind — largely targeted and consistently torching the left side of the Timbers' defense, with Jorge Villafaña unable to wrangle Michael Barrios and Liam Ridgewell a step slow in his tracking of former teammate Maxi Urruti.
Ridgewell would end up with a yellow card for his trouble — as would Urruti, for vociferous and consistent dissent — while Barrios would end up free on the byline and inside the box on multiple occasions in both halves.
But, in keeping with one of the themes of the night, the Colombian winger ultimately couldn't conjure a decisive moment. The closest he got was when Attinella saved a shot onto the crossbar with his face just after Valeri's goal, after which Santiago Mosquera misfired an open rebound.
Barrios' biggest moment, in the end, was the long-ball he struck ten minutes into the second half. It set Dominic Badji and Mabiala up for a footrace to goal that the forward was winning when Mabiala dragged him down just outside of the box.
Turned out, shortly after Attinella made a terrific kick save on a shot from Dallas substitute Roland Lamah, they'd have some margin for error.
After not breaking out of their own half once since the red card, a chip over the top from David Guzman caught Ziegler napping. Jeremy Ebobisse got to the ball first, Gonzalez came rushing off his line but had no play, and as Ebobisse found a trailing Valeri, the net was empty save for a furiously retreating Hedges.
But Valeri didn't give the former MLS Defender of the Year a chance. He zipped his shot low and hard into the near corner, and exploded in celebration: sprinting towards the Timbers' substitutes before being mobbed by the rest of his teammates.
It was a backbreaking goal. Dallas continued to pile on the pressure, but they wouldn't find a goal until the 94th minute on a goalmouth conversion from Hedges. There were no more chances. It ended 2-1, the Timbers jubilant, and Dallas crushed.
It's the fourth time in the last five years that Dallas been knocked out of the playoffs by either Portland or Seattle, and it will likely mean significant changes to a team that, for so much of the night, felt destined to come up just short.
Oscar Pareja's team had lost three straight games to end the regular season, and their performance on Wednesday night pretty well summed up why. For all the danger they created, they could neither find their composure in front of goal nor stay switched on defensively for all 90 minutes.
The contrast to the Timbers couldn't have been starker. Despite being dominated between the boxes, Portland was ruthless inside the boxes — with Valeri pounding in his two chances and Attinella coming up massive time and again on the other end.
Some of that is talent. Had Dallas a single player just three quarters as good as the Maestro, they might still have life this morning. Some of it is simply mentality. The Timbers' big players have had plenty of success, and they've had plenty of success in the postseason. There was never any panic.
The Timbers' next challenge, be it against SKC or Seattle, will be significantly more daunting than this one was. But winning a playoff game on the road, considering how the season started and how it was trending just a month ago, is no small accomplishment for Savarese and his players.
The first-year coach was understandably elated postgame — calling Valeri "magic" and complementing his team's "sacrifice" after Mabiala's sending off.
Indeed, that's been the formula for the Timbers this year: do the work defensively, do the work off the ball, and let one of their great players make the difference.
It's not fancy, but in the postseason, where games are tight and margins are thin, it's as good a recipe as any. Dallas is done. The Timbers are moving on. A big time series awaits.