The Portland Timbers entered the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs on a roll. With Caleb Porter's squad's health seemingly restored, the team looked poised to make a deep playoff run as the late-breaking top-seed in the Western Conference. Instead, their injury problems resurfaced and the now-reeling Timbers were unable to keep the Houston Dynamo's explosive attack off the board in both legs of their Western Conference Semifinal, dropping the series by a 2-1 aggregate margin.
"My guys gave everything they had," said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, following Sunday's 2-1 loss at Providence Park. "This is one that hurts for sure. We fell short. We felt we could move on, but we didn’t."
"It was a tough ending. We knew it was going to be a big ask. A lot to manage in this game, but I think the group believed because we’ve managed a lot in a lot of other games. Then we have to manage losing [Darren] Mattocks  minutes into the game," Porter said.
Mattocks, starting in the place of striker Fanendo Adi (out with a hamstring injury since August 6), was replaced by this year's No. 4 pick in the MLS SuperDraft, Duke product Jeremy Ebobisse. The substitution marked the second time in as many playoff legs that Porter was forced to burn a substitution in the first half due to injury.
Just weeks ago, as they wrapped the regular season, there was optimism around Portland that a healthy team would be rounding into form at the right time. "We thought we were going to get [Fanendo] Adi back and we were looking to be basically full strength,” Porter said. "I thought to myself, ‘listen, this team can win it.’”
Instead, the bottom fell out. David Guzman sprained his knee in the finale, and then Sebastian Blanco burned his foot (boiling water while cooking). Players went down aplenty in Leg 1, and Adi was ruled out for Leg 2.
“We were unlucky with a lot of injuries in a short period," said Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri, who helped set up Portland's opening strike. "Obviously you never expect that, but you can lose the game and that’s a part of the possibilities.”
Defender Liam Ridgewell allowed that even though he had seen a lot of injuries in his time, "back-to-back in crucial times" (and with crucial players) was personally unprecedented.
“But that’s football,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got strength and depth in the squad. We had enough to cope with it. It’s just a disappointing night."