PORTLAND – Steve Clark and his wife Carella have some extra visitors in town this week as his Portland Timbers host MLS Cup 2021 at Providence Park on Saturday (3 pm ET | ABC, UniMás in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).

As joyful as that is for the Timbers’ starting goalkeeper, it’s also a big enough occasion to add extra layers of complication to his usual preparations.

So he had to draw the line somewhere.

“A lot of family and friends in town,” Clark told reporters on Thursday at PTFC’s training facility. “Our house is off-limits. So no one's allowed over. My phone is not being answered. And it's just my wife and I and my dog, like it always is.”

The Michigan native exemplifies the particular psychological demands of the goalkeeping position, and his MLS Cup history alone is proof.

Clark is one of several players to have taken part in both of Portland’s previous trips to the championship game – though he was in goal for their opponents the Columbus Crew in the 2015 edition, famously victimized by Diego Valeri’s high pressing in an early buildout sequence that led to a stunning Portland goal in the first minute of their 2-1 win, the sort of moment that can easily wreck an entire career.

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Clark would navigate those treacherous mental waters, and three years and two clubs later he signed with PTFC; he was on the bench as they fell 2-0 to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the 2018 final. Last year Clark backstopped the Timbers to an MLS is Back Tournament championship, making that event’s best save (awarded via a fan poll) in their opening match and coming up clutch repeatedly throughout.

Now he’s finally gotten back to the league’s biggest stage, where managing the painful memories of the past is just standard operating procedure for high-level practitioners of his craft.

“I think [there’s] a lot of acceptance and knowing that the position carries risk; that's the position,” Clark said on Thursday. “The problem is when people had to hide from risk, and I don't.”

Here he cited the words of former FC Barcelona ‘keeper Victor Valdes, who lived through some of the loftiest highs and most gutting lows this sport can offer.

“You know, this is a position that, you walk a tightrope, and we make peace with that every day,” said Clark. “I think Victor Valdes said ‘goalkeeping is a special type of suffering,’ and I think every goalkeeper relates to that.”

Everyone who takes part in a match of Saturday’s magnitude must manage nerves. But from Clark’s point of view, Portland have collectively been riding the lightning for months now. He harked back to their massive 2-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 29, a season-changing result over a rival who had trounced them 6-2 at Providence Park two weeks prior. That win pushed the Timbers above the playoff line, and they’ve gone 11-3-1 since, including the postseason.

“Both teams probably feel pressure in a final,” said Clark. “For the last three-and-a-half months, we've been playing big games because we needed to qualify for the playoffs. And if you look at our record, these last three-and-a-half months, we've went through a gauntlet in the West. And we've played big games, starting with Seattle in August. So every week was a playoff atmosphere.

“So we feel comfortable, we feel like we have our fans behind us, and at the same time, we understand who New York City is. This is a good team.”

While no one in green and gold is taking their status as Saturday’s favorites for granted, their multiple deep tournament runs under Giovanni Savarese and his coaching staff have infused this Timbers side with a sturdy belief and grace under pressure that should serve them well in this pressure-packed setting.

“I can tell you that we have a great coaching staff that allows players to be themselves, and we have an incredible amount of experience,” said Clark. “And we are a group that really believes in each other and when the game gets tight, we’re calm – and there's a lot of good players on our team.”