20211015 george fochive

BEAVERTON, Ore. — For two months, consistency has been a key theme around the Portland Timbers. Within the squad, that theme gets distilled into focus on how the team defends set pieces, or how the backline puts action to the team’s defending principles. All of that was designed to address the same need. The Timbers expect themselves to perform at a certain level, and as of two months ago, that level needed to be higher.

Since then, Portland has done 7-0-1 (W-L-T) and has climbed to fourth in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. Now, with six games left in their regular season, the Timbers are in position to host a playoff game in the postseason’s first round, and with wins in their next two games, Portland can clinch a playoff spot long before their November 7, season finale against Austin.

2021 MLS Western Conference standings - current playoff teams
Kansas City
Real Salt Lake
LA Galaxy

Combine the Timbers’ improvement with the recently ended international break, and the need for consistency has given way to another theme. Having not played since their 1-0 home win over Miami on October 3, Portland will take the field on Saturday in search of not only three points but also their momentum.

“[The Timbers’ coaches] try to do everything possible to get [the players] to a place that we feel that will get them ready to compete, but ultimately it is the players who make sure they arrive to the match with the right mentality, which they have shown so far during practices,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said on Friday, when asked about his players’ time off.

“The practices have been very good,” Savarese explained. “The guys have been competing very well; the tempo, everything that we do has been very, very good. I do anticipate the guys being ready to play and being able to give a good match, but when you have two weeks that you don't play, especially when you have players traveling, we'll see how everything is going to be during the match.”

Three Timbers left to play with their national teams over the last two weeks, with Portland defender Bill Tuiloma scoring his first international goal during his time with New Zealand. Chilean attacker Felipe Mora saw time with his national team, while fullback Pablo Bonilla enjoyed one of his first prolonged stretches with Venezuela’s senior squad.

With their return, the Timbers’ internationals join their teammates for what looks like a fourth distinct part of Portland's season. The team began the campaign with a singular focus — Concacaf Champions League — and designed their spring around that tournament. After losing in the quarterfinal round to Mexico’s Club América, the next part of Portland’s season was defined by injuries, and how the team would survive until it had a workable roster. Once that happened, the team’s fight for consistency began, with the Timbers eventually bouncing back from a low point August 21 in Austin to go on their current, eight-game unbeaten run.

Portland Timbers' eight-game unbeaten streak
August 29, 2021
at Seattle
W, 2-0
September 3, 2021
at Houston
W, 2-0
September 10, 2021
at Vancouver
W, 1-0
September 15, 2021
T, 2-2
September 19, 2021
Los Angeles FC
W, 2-1
September 25, 2021
Real Salt Lake
W, 6-1
September 29, 2021
at Los Angeles FC
W, 2-1
October 3, 2021
W, 1-0

There’ll be a fifth chapter, too. It will begin on the weekend of November 20, when MLS’s playoffs start. Before then, the question around the Timbers is less whether they’ll make the postseason than, once there, what level they’ll be at, in terms of their performance. Finding the highest level possible is what the final six games of their regular season is about.

Saturday might be the perfect test to start the fourth part of Portland’s season. In Los Angeles, Portland will be competing against a playoff-caliber team, the LA Galaxy, who beat them earlier this season. The Timbers’ 4-1 loss at Dignity Heath Sports Park on July 30 was very much of the moment. Portland had yet to find the consistently that’s gotten the team to now.

But now, the team is supposed to be better. Their baseline is supposed to be higher. After the improvement of their last two months, the Timbers should not only be capable of avoiding more 4-1 results but also be capable of winning at places like Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Vancouver, as well as at Dignity Sports. The first three teams are already part of the Timbers’ eight-game run.

The Galaxy are the next chance for Portland to add to that list – for the team show their level. They’re the Timbers’ chance to reclaim their pre-break momentum.