The narrative surrounding the Portland Timbers has taken a complete 180-degree turn over the last month.
At one point, many worried the team might potentially miss out on playoffs for the second straight year. But after Sunday night, the team will, indeed, continue on in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, heading to the Western Conference Championship for the second time in the past three years.
After beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 in the conference semifinals, they're now in familiar territory.
“I’ve been around teams now as a head coach for a while, and some years you just seem to peak at the right time and you build an aura,” Porter said following Sunday’s win at BC Place. “This team has a lot of belief that we can win it all this year.”
In the Western Conference Championship, Portland will face FC Dallas, the regular season Western Conference champions. That team dispatched the Seattle Sounders via penalty kicks in their semifinals series.
Both the Timbers and FC Dallas will certainly have plenty of time to get ready due to upcoming off weekend for an international break. That could prove a blessing for Portland.
They’ll have to come up with a plan without star playmaker Diego Valeri and winger Rodney Wallace, both of whom will be suspended for Leg 1 in Portland on Nov. 22 due to yellow-card accumulation. Portland’s starting left back, Jorge Villafana, also had to come off with an injury in the second half against Vancouver on Sunday. He was using a walking boot after the match, but Porter said in his post-game comments that he would be fine.
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“We need to recharge and recover from this game, and we have time to do that,” Porter said. “Then we need to get back to training and keep getting better. I think we’re still scratching the surface of the level this team can play at. Today, we did some things we haven’t done all year, so that’s exciting. We still, in the next couple weeks, can go to another level.”
Portland and Dallas split their season series this year, both enjoying lopsided home victories. Portland beat Dallas 3-1 on Apr. 4, while Dallas returned the favor on July 25 with a 4-1 rout in Texas.
“I think the biggest thing is not to get over-eager and make sure our build-up is right,” Timbers center back Nat Borchers said of the two-week gap between games. “We have to enjoy the build-up, but realize ultimately the performances are what we’ll be judged on. And we’ve got to make sure we prepare the right way for Dallas because they’re going to be a really tough match-up.”
Of course, Porter and FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja have a history stemming from the Apr. 4 game in Portland that resulted in "tissue-gate." Porter said Sunday that’s water under the bridge.
“We’re fine,” Porter said of the incident. “He apologized for that, and so did I. That’s in the heat of the battle. You leave it on the field.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.