While the Portland Timbers’ playoff hopes may have come crashing down with New York’s 1-0 victory Thursday over Philadelphia, head coach John Spencer still insists the motivation for his team’s season finale against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (9 pm ET; watch LIVE online) remains the same.
“We felt that Philly had a good chance to get a win against the Red Bulls, but it wasn’t to be,” Spencer said in a Friday morning conference call. “I think for a first season, for us, it’s been a good season. We’ve got one more game against Real Salt Lake and we want to go out and get a win and end the season with as many points as we possibly can get.”
The Timbers needed New York to lose or draw against Philadelphia for their match at RSL to have postseason meaning. But by the time the Timbers landed in Salt Lake City – having followed the game online as they traveled from Washington, D.C., where they tied Wednesday against D.C. United – the Timbers knew their chance to become only the second MLS expansion team since 1998 to qualify for the playoffs was over.
“You can’t fault our effort,” Spencer said. “You can’t fault our effort throughout the season. For a first-year team to get 41 points with a possibility to get 44, I think has been a good season. A little bit [short] of a great season, not getting into the playoffs.”
Spencer said the team still practiced Friday morning as if it were just another game, a brand of professionalism the first-time head coach has preached all season.
“We could look at the last game as, ‘You know what? It’s our last game. There’s nothing riding on it,’” he said. “But there is. It’s three points riding on it. For us, we’re going to go out and try to win the game. We’ll be putting the strongest 11 that I feel that is capable of winning the game.”
Portland will be missing forward Darlington Nagbe, who also missed the game against United with a calf injury, as well as midfielder Sal Zizzo, who injured his knee in the Timbers’ 2-0 loss Oct. 14 to Houston.
There will be a lot on the line for Real Salt Lake, as well. A win will ensure they retain the third position in the Western Conference, which guarantees them a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament if RSL, the LA Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders advance to the MLS Cup final.
But the seeming disparity in the stakes for the two sides won’t deter Spencer.
“You put on a Timbers uniform, you go out and you try to win the game,” Spencer said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.