If you condense the home and away legs of the 2013 MLS Western Conference Championships into a single, 180-minute match, the Portland Timbers just entered halftime trailing by two goals to Real Salt Lake. The second half begins on Nov. 24 at JELD-WEN Field (6pm PT, ESPN, 750 The Game)
To a team that lost only five games during the regular season, this might seem like uncharted territory. However, not only have the Timbers – with a roster that has displayed its resiliency and character time and again this year – surmounted two goal leads at home and on the road, but defender Jack Jewsbury brings to the table the invaluable experience of a famous playoff comeback during the 2004 MLS Western Conference semifinals.
Jewsbury was in his second year as a professional with the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City), on a team that finished first in the Western Conference and won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. However, the Wizards lost the first leg of the conference semifinals 2-0 against defending MLS Cup champion San Jose Earthquakes. The second leg was at home in Arrowhead Stadium, where Kansas City was 9-3-3 overall and conceded only 12 goals during the regular season, the second-fewest home goals allowed in the league that season. Needing two goals to send the series to overtime and three goals to win on aggregate, Jewsbury played a pivotal role in the Wizards’ quest to reach MLS Cup.
In the second leg, Kansas City cut into the lead early as Jewsbury set up Khari Stephenson for a goal in the 26th minute. An Earthquakes’ own goal tied the aggregate score at 2-2 three minutes into the second half and as the sides were nearly resigning themselves to overtime, Jewsbury struck. Running onto a perfectly placed pass at the top of the box, Jewsbury one-timed a shot that struck off the inside of the left post and settled into the back of the net in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, delivering Kansas City the 3-2 win on aggregate and a spot in MLS Cup.
“It’s something I’ve talked to a few guys about already. Back in 2004 when we were down two goals after going to San Jose and came home and knew what we had to do,” Jewsbury said. “Obviously, it was a tough task, but one that we believed in. We were able to get all three goals in regulation and I was lucky enough to get one myself.”
That never-say-die resiliency is a feeling that Jewsbury certainly feels with his current club. One of the original MLS Timbers, Jewsbury knows that this squad has what it takes.
“It was a team very similar to this year, consistent throughout the year, had won the Open Cup and had seen a lot of success, so we believed in ourselves and knew the task ahead and continued to push forward and I think that’s what this group [Portland] will do and we’re really excited about the opportunity,” Jewsbury said.
The team’s consistency and mental toughness started right from the season’s outset with the Timbers going down 3-1 at halftime in the opener against a New York Red Bulls side that would eventually capture the Supporters’ Shield and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. With a roster filled with new faces playing their first regular-season match together, Portland displayed its fighting spirit with a two-goal comeback in the second half for a 3-3 draw at JELD-WEN Field.
Just a few weeks later on the road against the Colorado Rapids, Portland went down 2-0 in the 48th minute. Having overcome a 1-0 deficit to earn a draw in second-half stoppage time at rival Seattle in the previous match, the Timbers called upon their character again in Colorado as midfielder Will Johnson tallied the first two-goal performance of his MLS career to bring Portland level for a 2-2 draw.
Trailing at one point in five of their first eight games this season, the Timbers conceded defeat just once, showing the type of attitude and spirit that has carried them to edge of reaching MLS Cup.
So while the second leg presents a definite challenge, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter knows those previous experiences—both from veterans’ past experiences like Jewsbury’s as well as this season’s own accomplishments—strengthen his team’s resolve and he has definite confidence in their ability.
“This team is capable of pushing games and scoring goals,” said Porter. “I’ve seen some of their best stuff when they’ve had their backs against the wall and had to fight to dig themselves out of it.”