Caleb Porter: Despite Portland Timbers' recent success over Sounders, playoff game presents new challenge

Porter: "Games are decided...on what happens when the whistle blows inside the lines"

When the Portland Timbers beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Oct. 13 in the third and final regular-season matchup between the two clubs this year, Caleb Porter said the script had been flipped. The Rose City club would no longer play second fiddle to their counterparts to the north.

Now the Timbers will get to back that up in the MLS Cup playoffs when they take on none other than those northern neighbors, the Seattle Sounders, in a Western Conference Semifinals starting Saturday at CenturyLink Field (7 pm PT, NBCSN, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940).

And Porter said that memorable night three weeks ago could now make his club's job tougher.

“Just because we beat Seattle in the last game doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation following Thursday’s training session and media conference call. “In some ways, when you have success it gets harder, and it gets harder because other teams know now that they have to play their best to beat you. And they also want to beat you because when you’re on top everyone wants to knock you off the top.”

Despite their recent triumph over Seattle – which Porter said at the time marked a high point in the Timbers’ maturation into one of the top clubs in MLS – the first-year head coach said it will take nothing short of a top-shelf performance once again to advance in Portland’s first-ever MLS postseason appearance.

In three games this season, the bitter rivals split victories and tied once, with two games being played in Seattle. So despite the seeding advantage and Seattle limping down the stretch in the regular season, Porter said the Sounders are a club not to be trifled with.

“Probably what it does is fire them up a little bit,” Porter said. “Like I’ve said, we’re humble, our players know that games aren’t decided on talk, games aren’t decided on stats, games aren’t decided on who was better in the last game, games aren’t decided on who was better last year.

"Games are decided, no matter who you play, on what happens when the whistle blows inside the lines, and it’s that simple. … I remind my guys of that every single week, and they understand that.”

Of course, there are also the ancillary aspects to the game sure to play a role – it is Timbers-Sounders, after all.

The historic rivalry, which has transpired most recently in eight regular-season MLS games, will have implications beyond bragging rights and claims to the Cascadia Cup, the supporter-created derby among the league’s three Pacific Northwest teams, for the first time since the Timbers joined the Sounders in the league three seasons ago.

Porter downplayed the game’s implications beyond the importance of the playoffs, but he did admit it will be special for the teams’ fans and the league in general.

“I really try to stay, from game to game, absorbed on what I need to do to prepare my team to win the game,” Porter said in his conference call. “Those other things are nice. I do think it’s great for the league to have a Sounders-Timbers matchup. I do think it’s going to hopefully be an epic series, one that people will talk about.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.