PORTLAND, Ore.— Until this season, a curse seemed to fall on the Portland Timbers.
Prior to 2018, the Timbers seemed destined to miss out on the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs altogether in even-numbered years. While they finished atop Western Conference in 2013 and 2017 and they hoisted MLS Cup in 2015, the Timbers failed to make the MLS postseason in any even-numbered year. Until this year, that is.
Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese has rebooted the Timbers' postseason expectations. Under the Venezuelan, the Timbers have made the Western Conference Championship after dispatching FC Dallas in the Knockout Round and the Seattle Sounders in a two-legged series that went to a penalty shootout. They did all this as the No. 5 seed.
But tell Savarese the odds against his club when facing top-seeded Sporting Kansas City in the upcoming series with the winner advancing to the MLS Cup Final, and you’ll get a chuckle and a smile.
“We like to be the underdog,” Savarese told the media following training on Tuesday, adding the Timbers role as the underdog is deserved. “Kansas City hard a very good season. They made it number one in our group, so it’s normal we might be the underdogs.”
But that’s not to say Savarese feels his wins against FC Dallas and the previously red-hot Sounders were flukes.
“No. I think we beat two teams. We went through two very difficult rounds against difficult opposition because we played together. We had a plan and we executed it,” he said.
“I think the most important part,” Savarese concluded, “is we are united. The group is very tight right now. Everybody is working together and we are prepared for anything that might come.”
An illustrative example of the team's unity under Savarese comes from veteran defender Liam Ridgewell.
A fixture in the lineup when healthy under previous head coach Caleb Porter, Ridgewell was dropped from the Timbers' 18 for a game against Dallas in March. At the time, Savarese explained he needed to "change something."
But Ridgewell, who aired his disagreement with the decision to be dropped in public, was integrated back into the lineup over the course of the season and has started all three playoff games for Portland this year.
“I think now you guys believe me when I was saying that [Ridgewell] was going to be important for the club,” Savarese reminded the media. “And he’s showing it. He’s done everything the right way. He’s been working very hard. He’s been playing the way we want him to play.
“So we glad that not only him,” Savarese said, "but everybody is really engaged in going forward all together.”