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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers gave the performance they wanted, closing their 2021 Major League Soccer regular season with one of their best games of the season. But with two weeks between their 3-0 win over Austin FC and the next time take the field, the Timbers’ form will have to be more than an artifact of this moment. Now winners of three straight games, Portland need their new standard to persist when they open the playoffs in two weeks against Minnesota United.

“Credit to the guys – they fought through it and we were able to come back strong and finish fifth in the entire league,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said after the game. Portland came into Sunday night locked into the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

“This is credit to the work that everybody put in — the players, the staff, everyone,” Savarese said. “Now it’s about taking one game at a time.”

The Timbers’ Western Conference quarterfinal fate was cemented after Minnesota’s 3-3 draw with the LA Galaxy on Decision Day, booking the Loons’ ticket to Portland for the playoffs’ first round. When they arrive at Providence Park two weekends from now, Minnesota will face a team that went outshot Austin FC 23-6 on Sunday, getting first-half goals from Cristhian Parades and Jaroslaw Niezgoda before, eight minutes after intermission, Sebastián Blanco scored the night’s final goal.

“[The win] gives us a lot of confidence,” team captain Diego Chara said in postgame media. “We know now we’re going to play at home, the playoff game. It’s going to be against a difficult team, but now we have a couple weeks to prepare for that game.”

Sunday’s the type of performance teams hope for in a regular-season finale – a one-sided game that took the coaching staff’s gameplan from the whiteboard to the field. Portland controlled play with and without the ball, taking advantage of Austin’s want for possession by forcing high turnovers that turned into multiple goals. For most of the game, Austin was left without a good chance on goalkeeper Steve Clark, and between hit crossbars and open chances that went barely wide, Portland had reason to think the final margin could have been more.

“I thought our guys did a fantastic job to close the spaces, to move them wide, to prevent guys from getting in the box and finding the ball with those crosses and when we had the chances to move forward, not only the goals that we scored, but we created a lot of chances,” Savarese explained. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t capitalize a little bit more on those opportunities, but overall I thought a very strong performance.”

With any result at the end of the season, “what’s next” becomes most important. Yes, it’s nice the Timbers put in such a dominant performance. At home against an expansion team, a playoff team should, even if Portland had struggled against Austin during two other meetings this season. But what does tonight’s performance mean for the Timbers’ chances against Minnesota United in two weeks? Or a potential conference semifinal in Colorado against the Rapids, should they advance? Or the type of competition the team could face in the later rounds of the playoffs?

“Every team that we were going to face in the playoff, we know is going to be a tough match,” Savarese said. “The good thing now is that we know who we’re playing, and we can prepare for it. [Minnesota has] a good team. They’re a difficult team. They have some interesting players that can be dangerous, and now we have to fully focus on them and prepare ourselves to what we have to do in this game coming up, now that we know who our rival is going to be in that first match in the playoff.”

This is also where the Timbers’ two-week break becomes particularly. In the past, Major League Soccer has had trouble scheduling the start of their playoffs against FIFA’s November international window. This year, the league opted to wait until that break is over before beginning its postseason. As a result, teams will have a two-week gap between their final regular season action and their first win-or-else battle. The postseason’s start will be less about what teams were in Week 34, more about what teams are after two weeks to recover.

“We have a couple of weeks to prepare well for [Minnesota],” Chara said. After that, the sprint is on. This year’s MLS Cup final is scheduled for December 11. The playoffs start on the November 20. Over those 21 days, the league will complete four rounds of playoffs – a sprint that will not only test team’s high-end quality but also depth. Whereas in 2018, when the Timbers went to that year’s final, home-and-home series and an international break extended the playoffs over more than a month, this season’s format packs the postseason into a moment.

“It’s about taking one game at a time,” Savarese reiterated, when asked about the coming postseason. “One practice at a time, making sure that we train as well as we can, that we work on the things that we need to continue to improve and the things that we have shown to be solid [and] be even better.

“That’s it. Keep a very good environment, which has been the case with the guys and the staff. Now the most important part has come, and we have to take it one game at a time.”

Fourteen teams qualified for this year’s postseason. Each needs to calibrate for a new challenge. The playoffs start in two weeks, and once they do, they’ll be over in an instant.