Brian Fernandez was suspended. Diego Valeri was out with a lingering calf injury. And the San Jose Earthquakes were coming into Providence Park with everything to play for — in need of a win to keep their own season alive.
This time, though, after a month of of ugly soccer and bad breaks and disappointing results, the Timbers got the job done and did it with room to spare.
Goals from Larrys Mabiala, Dairon Asprilla, and Sebastian Blanco were more than enough to lift the Timbers to their first win in six games on a lovely fall afternoon, jump into sixth place in the Western Conference, and bring the curtain down on San Jose's remarkable season.
All of the sudden, after all they endured this fall, the Timbers can look forward to a third-straight playoff appearance that will begin with a game against Real Salt Lake — a team that they've already beaten twice this year, at a venue that they've won at in both of their previous visits under Giovani Savarese.
Things are looking up. Facing the biggest test of their season, the Timbers had the right gameplan and executed it to near-perfection.
With San Jose man-marking in the ubiquitous system installed by their Argentinian manager Matias Almeyda, Savarese — in a move reminiscent of Portland's surge last fall — set his team up to defend deep and hit the 'Quakes on the break.
The early returns were positive. The Timbers nearly took the lead after a quarter of an hour when a Blanco corner hit Chris Wondolowski and forced San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega into a sprawling save, and generally were contesting the game on their terms.
The Timbers were getting traction going forward, and while the Earthquakes had plenty of the ball — they'd finish with 61 percent possession and complete nearly 200 more passes than the Timbers did — they were completely unable to break down the Timbers' defensive lines.
A slaloming, one-man run aside, Jorge Villafaña held the dangerous Cristian Espinoza was held in check. Vako completed only four passes during the entirety of the half on the opposite flank, Wondolowski just two from his position at center forward.
The Timbers' attack was limited somewhat with Asprilla and Andy Polo playing on the wings, but with Ebobisse dealing up top and Blanco slashing through the middle, it had a balance that had often been missing over the last several months.
It was on a set piece, though, that the Timbers would strike first.
Just before the half hour mark, Asprilla settled a recycled corner on the edge of the penalty area and slipped a ball wide left for an onrushing Villafaña, who whipped a pass across the face of goal that Mabiala, who had stayed in the box after the initial clearance, stuck out his trailing leg and dragged in.
Just like that, San Jose was in serious trouble — in need of multiple goals, with a third of the game gone, having failed to create a single significant chance yet. But they still had Wondolowski, and, with him, the ability to conjure a goal from thin air.
With halftime closing in and the score 1-0, that's exactly with they did. Off of a pre-planned corner routine, Espinoza hit a cross to the near post and the 36-year-old record MLS goalscorer beat everyone to the ball and flicked a diving header off of the ground, off of the underside of the crossbar, and in to tie the game.
As the second half began, with Dallas running riot over Sporting Kansas City, everything was on the table. One of these teams was going to be playing its final 45 minutes of the season, one was going to move on.
Enter, not for the first time and not ever unremarkably, Asprilla. Handed his first start in a month ahead of Marvin Loría, the Colombian with a penchant for scoring the most timely of goals repaid Savarese's faith with another memorable contribution.
Just before the hour mark, Asprilla drifted inside to pick up a cross-field pass from Ebobisse, cut past Florien Jungwirth with an excellent first touch, and went barreling through on goal. Vega stopped his first shot, but the rebound squibbed underneath him — and Asprilla, at the second time of asking, tucked it in.
Whatever his past, for a player who has had the most abject of seasons, this was a stunning moment: a truly excellent goal, all of his own making, thanks to the kind of decisive turn of pace that you almost never see him make when he receives the ball.
At this time of the year, though, there's no rhyme or reason when it comes to Asprilla. He's just a different player.
Almeyda emptied his bench almost immediately the goal, making all three of his substitutions and trying to push his team — again in search of two goals, now with just 30 minutes left to play — into a more overtly attacking posture.
In the process, which included removing a defensive midfielder, the 'Quakes opened themselves up on the counter. The Timbers had several chance to ice the game in the following minutes, with Ebobisse and Cristhian Paredes coming closest, but it'd take a special moment from Blanco to make the result secure.
With a quarter of an hour to play, and Valeri off the field, it was the diminutive Argentine who stepped to a free kick from 25 yards away and fired it into the top corner.
No player on the field more deserved to score. The Timbers were never worse over the last month than when Blanco was out of the lineup, and on a day when they were missing their two most high profile attackers, he brought the heat in every phase of the game.
With that, San Jose was buried. They finished the season having lost six straight, a sour end to an otherwise triumphant first MLS campaign for Almeyda.
The Timbers' run-in wasn't much prettier. But Savarese, who has never missed the postseason as a manager, was understandably pleased with his team's perseverance. They didn't throw in the towel, and they made it to the finish line with their season intact.
"It has been a very difficult season in so many ways," Savarese said after the game. "So that’s why I think even in this moment that we have been able to make the playoffs, I’m more proud than ever for all the guys we have on the team.”
The slate is clean. Salt Lake away, a team the Timbers know they can beat, and then the specter of another playoff meeting with Seattle. The possibilities, just as they should at this time of the year, abound.