PORTLAND, Ore. – It was almost a year ago when Caleb Porter settled onto his couch at his home in Akron, Ohio, to watch the Portland Timbers take on the Seattle Sounders in the famed Cascadia rivalry.
Still the head coach at the University of Akron at the time, Porter already had been announced as the new Portland coach, but had yet to take the reigns of the Timbers nor make any public comments since the announcement earlier in August.
And before the match started – which the Timbers would lose 3-0 in punchless effort – he received a text message from Alexi Lalas. The former US national team star and current TV analyst asked him if he had any comment on the game.
“'The Portland Timbers will no longer be inferior to the Seattle Sounders,'” Porter recalled to reporters on Sunday night. “And that was no disrespect to Seattle. It really wasn’t about the game that day so much, but it was about the future. And there is no reason why we would be inferior. … We should be capable of beating the Sounders and it not being a miracle.”
Now, in just a year’s time, Porter has made good on his promise to completely reverse the proud franchise’s fortunes. That was punctuated Sunday evening with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Sounders in a wild atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field that put Portland atop the Western Conference standings and tied on points for the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race with two regular-season games left.
“I think it says everything about how far we’ve come as a club,” Porter said.
They’ve done it in impressive fashion over the past month. Portland have gone unbeaten in their last six games, with four wins that included victories over Colorado, the LA Galaxy and Seattle – all teams that were ahead of them in the standings when they played.
Of course, achieving these heights against their bitter rivals made it even sweeter, veteran defender Jack Jewsbury said.
“We knew the importance of this game, we realized whoever came away with three points was going to put themselves in a pretty good situation moving forward,” said Jewsbury, one of the few remaining holdovers from Portland’s first two years.
The game featured aspects that have become all too common when Portland and Seattle meet – not only physical play (Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso was shown red in the 74th minute when he elbowed his Timbers counterpart Will Johnson in the face) and drama-filled moments.
“Our team, if there’s a fight, we’re up for a fight,” Porter said. “We have no problem with that. We can out football teams, but also we can out fight teams. This team is not soft, they’re mentally tough. If it needs to be a fight, we have no problem with that. So I thought they made it a fight and that was no problem for us. We’re not going to back down.”
Porter said the Timbers are now a team that can expect to beat Seattle, expect to come out on top in tightly fought, passionate games.
“I believe we were going to win the game," he said. "There are times, and I’m not trying to sound like I can predict things, but there are times where you just know you’re going to win. It was one of those days that I just knew we were going to win.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.