PORTLAND, Ore. – After a series of injuries seriously hampered his club in their Western Conference Semifinal loss to the Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers manager Caleb Porter was left wondering what might’ve been on Sunday night.
The top-seeded Timbers were eliminated from the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday, losing 2-1 at home to Houston to drop their series against the Dynamo by that same margin. Portland were decimated by injuries during the series, with Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, Larrys Mabiala, Sebastian Blanco and David Guzman all missing at least part of the series due to health issues.
“What if we were at full strength?” Porter asked in his postmatch remarks following Sunday night’s loss. “Because at the start of the year and the end of the year at full strength we showed what we are capable of, and even tonight first half we showed what we are capable of, but it wasn’t enough.”
Injuries were perhaps not the only reason for Portland’s sudden departure from the playoffs, but they were a very substantial one. In the two-legged series, Porter used all six of his substitutions, most of them early to sub off injured players. Normally loathe to disrupt the flow of the game, it’s not uncommon for Porter to finish a game with a substitution (sometimes all three) unused.
While their season ended earlier than they would’ve hoped, Porter was quick to find the positives on Sunday.
“I think when you look at this team – and this is very encouraging moving forward – we have the pieces to again next year put together an extremely positive season and make steps even further to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” he said.
“I can’t fault my guys. This is a great group of guys and it’s a shame we are not able to move on because I think we could have done something, especially if we would have moved on and had 15 days or so to get a few guys back and healthy and more full strength. We really thought we would pull this off today.”
Porter says the Timbers are on the right path. Despite only four of the team’s regular starters appearing in more than 25 games in 2017, he doesn’t believe the Timbers need the sort of sweeping institutional changes they made last winter. Instead, they’ll target incremental improvements.
“I think we can still get better in a few spots,” Porter continued. “We won’t hesitate to continue to add pieces. No doubt we will add some pieces to get even better. We’ve rebuilt our depth. We’ve rebuilt our core. We’ve added some quality in some spots and moving forward we are going to come back better than ever.”