Decision Day

Portland Timbers feel they have finally been rewarded for strong play down the stretch

PORTLAND, Ore. — It wasn’t always a pretty season for the Portland Timbers. They got off to a difficult start, going winless in their first six games. They’ve dealt with numerous injuries and have been in a struggle to stay above the playoff line most of the season despite a kind stretch run on the schedule.

But on Decision Day presented by AT&T it didn’t matter, because the Timbers punched their ticket to the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs with a comprehensive 3-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in front of 25,218 fans.

“The energy from the fans today was different, was incredible,” Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese said after the win on Sunday. “Very proud of the performance. They executed the plan that we worked on during the week and we showed a lot of character.”

It’s the kind of home result the Timbers were looking for after a series of disappointing finishes at Providence Park. They had won just two of their last nine games in Portland. They suffered the most home losses in a season since 2012. They had a 319-minute home scoreless streak that ran into late September.

“Frustrating games because we didn’t get the results we wanted, even though we were playing well,” Savarese said. “I think the performances have been outstanding. Just the results, unfortunately, didn’t match up with the games and the performance that we have been showing in all these matches.”

Thankfully for the Timbers, Portland’s own version of Mr. October, Dairon Asprilla, made an appearance. The forward has come up big when the team has needed him most, with three goals and four assists in 693 postseason minutes. On Sunday, Asprilla did it again — in what might have well been a postseason game — by scoring off the rebound of his own shot in the 60th minute.

“I saw something in him (in training), that he was hungry to be able to prove himself,” Savarese said. “Today he worked very hard. Besides the goal it was the amount of work that he put in. But not only Asprilla, the entire team.”

“It’s not really about it being October or November,” Asprilla said. “When you are given the opportunity, in any month of the year, you need to take advantage of it. Perhaps, I earned my chance now and I must make the most of it...I was given an opportunity today and I believe I showed I am capable of doing great things, so I will continue working.”

The win means they’ll they’ll hit the road to face off against Real Salt Lake in their playoff opener on Oct. 19 or 20. The last time they faced off against Salt Lake they fought for a gritty 1-0 victory in Providence Park.

The big question around that game will be the health of star midfielder Diego Valeri, who did not play Sunday due to a lower leg injury, with Savarese saying, “hopefully he’s going to be able to start training soon.”

Whether or not Valeri sees the field in the playoffs, the Timbers are happy to be back in the postseason for the third year in a row.

“[The playoffs] is where we want to be, where I think we deserve to be” Savarese said. “We will prepare and hope we can get everybody back and fit to be able to have all the selections possible.”