Here come the Portland Timbers — again.
A year after finishing the regular season unbeaten in their final seven games (6W-0L-1D) en route to hosting the MLS Cup Final, Portland are making a similar second-half push in 2022.
A 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday night pushed the Timbers above the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line in the West and continued their dominance against their in-conference foes. Portland are 4-0-3 in their last seven matches following three consecutive defeats, the same losing streak that preceded last year’s late-season surge.
What’s been the spark? Head coach Giovanni Savarese said the June international window provided the perfect pause his team needed to refocus and recharge.
“There was an understanding that we needed to be much better than we were at the beginning of the season,” Savarese said after the match. “And there was more emphasis on details to make sure that the guys were able to work a little harder on those details.”
The Timbers also got healthier and, combined with positive results in June, grew confidence within the squad.
“I think once you start getting good results and the belief grows and the competition grows within the team as well because now we have more players that are available,” Savarese said. “The [injured] guys now have been participating so they're pushing each other and that makes us be a better team.”
Dairon Asprilla has had a similar trajectory in his seventh season with the club. After a career season in 2021 with 10 goals and three assists, the Colombian got off to a slow start in 2022.
But he’s scored three goals in the last four games, including the 71st-minute headed winner Saturday night as the Timbers rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the Quakes.
“He’s been better. I saw him in practice being better, every time he’s come into the games he’s shown more,” Savarese said. "I don’t think he started the same way that he played last year, but I've seen a change back again, I’ve seen the effort he needed to put back in and i felt very comfortable and confident to play him from the beginning and he repaid with the work and he repaid with the perfect goal that we needed at that particular time to get the team with the belief that we were having in the second half.”
Asprilla's return to form also means a return to his patented goal celebration, even if it's not universally popular in his family.
“The backflip is my celebration, I love this,” Asprilla said. “But my mom said no more, please no more.”
Like Asprilla, the Timbers have flipped the script on their season, but they’re not resting on their laurels, not with a similarly hot Minnesota United squad that are unbeaten in their last six (5W-0L-1D) coming up next Saturday (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes) at Allianz Field.
“In the last seven games, I think the team is playing really good, with some moments, difficult moments like the game against Vancouver,” Diego Chara said, referencing a 1-1 draw against their Cascadia rivals in Week 21. “But I think we are focused, we know every game is going to be a final and i think everyone here is thinking like that.”