The Portland Timbers began their first week of playoff preparation without an opponent.
As the top seed in the Western Conference, they first had to wait for Wednesday’s winner of the knockout round between Sounders FC and Colorado. Well, at least that would have been the conventional way to go.
“To be honest with you,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said, “we prepared for Seattle, because we knew they would most likely win. We expected this result. Our guys are up for it and ready for it and excited about it.”
So is everyone across MLS.
This was the matchup nearly everyone outside of Colorado hoped would happen in the Western Conference semifinals. It’s a dream pairing that features the fiercest rivalry in American soccer and two of the most compelling teams in the league this season.
The teams have met in postseason four times dating to 1975 in the old North American Soccer League, and this latest chapter, with perhaps the most at stake in the clubs’ 38-year history, provides the stage to take the level of contention even further.
“The rivalry is massive,” said Seattle assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who played and coached for the Sounders over multiple decades and leagues. “Now that it’s actually a playoff series, it grows into Mount Rainer.”
Porter added that the series has “epic” possibilities.
Both sides agree: the matchup is good for everyone – coaches, players, fans and, most of all, the league.
The Timbers have been the surprise of the season, making an astronomical leap from last season under their first-year coach. They collected 23 more points in the standings to finish first in the West and earn their first playoff berth.
Portland boasts the favorite for Coach of the Year (Porter) and Newcomer of the Year (midfield maestro Diego Valeri, who had 10 goals, and 13 assists in the regular season).
The Sounders, with renewed confidence after beating the Rapids on Wednesday, aren’t quite ready to embrace an underdog role, however.
“They’ve got some threats,” goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann said of the Timbers. “I think we can match them, no problem.”
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