Season finale remains important for Timbers
PORTLAND, Ore. – The Cascadia Cup belongs to the Portland Timbers.
But before they can call it a season, they’ll have one more game to play. And that comes Saturday when they welcome in Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes for a Saturday game at JELD-WEN Field (3:30pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 101.1 FM KXL / La Pantera 940).
An obvious letdown for the Timbers, a team that has long been out of the playoff race?
Don’t tell that to the boys in green.
“I don’t think it’s ever difficult to get up for a game at home,” Timbers forward Bright Dike said after Wednesday’s training session at JELD-WEN.
On paper, Saturday’s game is about as meaningful as a preseason tune-up. The Timbers, who won the Cascadia Cup with their first road win of the season Sunday over Vancouver, can only affect the order of the bottom half of the Western Conference standings with their result.
Even San Jose, who last weekend also wrapped up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, have seemingly little to play for.
But since the postseason was lost for the Timbers in late summer, they have had something to play for: a job.
Next year’s head coach, Caleb Porter, has been in close contact with interim head coach/general manager Gavin Wilkinson evaluating talent as they play out the stretch.
“It’s still our job,” Timbers defender David Horst said. “We’ve got to go out there and play hard. No one knows what’s going to happen next year. We’ve got a new coach coming in. ... It’s still an audition. It’s not a game that you can just say doesn’t mean anything because to a lot of guys it does mean something.”
It’s not only a chance to make a final impression for starters like Horst but several bench players may also get a shot at making their case for next season. Central defenders Eric Brunner and Mamadou “Futty” Danso underwent surgeries this week and will be unavailable. And defender Hanyer Mosquera also is nursing a knee injury, and is listed as questionable.
That leaves at least one opening on the back line.
“A lot of guys haven’t gotten a chance to play this year,” Horst said. “A lot of guys will be able to show what they’ve got in that last game. And Caleb will be watching, assistant coaches will be watching, Merritt [Paulson, owner] and Gavin will be watching. You just can’t take the game off.”
And then, of course, there’s the fact that Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski needs two goals to break the all-time record of 27 in a season.
“I think our team is going to try our hardest to play the spoilers and actually get a result for ourselves,” Dike said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.