Sebastián Blanco: "It’s a good time for the Timbers now.”
Over the course of his coaching career, Giovanni Savarese has cultivated the stereotype of a tournament coach. His teams often endure a roller coaster of ups and downs during a regular season and aren’t in contention for the MLS Shield every year, but put him in a tournament situation and he gets the best out of his team.
Since taking over as manager of the Portland Timbers in 2018 his teams haven’t mustered a true challenge at the MLS Shield, but have played in two MLS Cup finals (2018, 2021) and won the MLS is Back Tournament as well as a Western Conference crown.
While adding hardware to a club’s trophy cabinet is what Savarese does, one piece has frustratingly eluded him: the Cascadia Cup. Although not a pure knockout tournament, the format requires results against the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders to win the fan-given trophy.
On Friday, August 26, 2022, he finally scratched that accomplishment off the list with a crucial 2-1 win against the Sounders in front of a thunderous, sold-out Providence Park.
“I’m so proud of (the players),” said Savarese. “When they achieve things like they did today, it’s amazing. I have joy seeing them celebrate and be happy together.”
The Timbers Army’s pregame tifo gave the 116th rendition of the heated, long-time rivalry the stage it deserved. The behemoth display, which took up almost the entirety of the North End, alluded to The Shining with the image of antagonist Jack Torrance holding an axe and the saying “little fish, little fish let us in.”
Portland certainly came out on the front foot in front of a home crowd hungry to witness a win for the first time since July 23. For that reason, perhaps, the Timbers felt a bit unlucky to concede the first goal of the game in the eighth minute, a back-post header scored by Yeimar Gómez completely against the run of play. To make matters worse, it was the only look they conceded the entirety of the first half.
Slowly, the luck evened out as the Timbers built a 9-1 shots advantage at one point and controlled possession. Then the game changed in the 41st minute when Eryk Williamson drew a penalty in the box that forward Dairon Asprilla converted right before halftime.
Midway through the second half the Timbers’ statistical dominance materialized on the scoreboard as Sebastián Blanco scored at the back post and celebrated in front of his family.
“I have been here for six years so I understand what [the Cascadia Cup] means for the fans,” said Blanco. “It has been a long time since we have beaten Seattle twice in a year. Of course this didn’t save the entire year, but it feels really good.”
The Sounders scared the home fans one last time in the 85th minute as an attempted header struck the post and bounced directly in front of the goal line, but the Timbers buckled down for the remaining 10 minutes.
After eight minutes of stoppage time the whistle sounded and Portland players celebrated with relief as they earned a result they so desperately needed. A win, first and foremost, but also the Cascadia Cup––it’s first in half a decade.
“It was a big game for us,” said Asprilla. “Today the team needed three points and it was an important game for the standings. It’s a good time for the Timbers now.”