The Caleb Porter-led Portland Timbers have never been a side lacking in confidence.
The first-year head coach has instilled a hard-working sense of self-belief tempered with humbleness amongst the group from Day 1. Heading into their first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs – coming off a 5-0 drubbing of Chivas USA in the weekend’s season finale – as the top seed in the Western Conference that couldn’t be more true.
“This group is very, very hungry,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “And I think they smell a little bit of blood in the water with the playoffs. And I like our chances. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy, the teams we’re going to have to match up against are very good teams.”
Porter’s ammunition comes from the fact that he felt Saturday’s goal outburst against Chivas at the StubHub Center provided a glimpse into just what Portland are capable of when at full strength. In going up 3-0 before halftime, the Timbers’ final third of attacking mid Diego Valeri – who scored two goals and recorded an assist in 45 minutes of work – with forwards Darlington Nagbe on the right flank and Rodney Wallace on the left and one of four players at striker (it was Jose Valencia on Saturday) looked to be just the right equation to make Porter’s attack its most dangerous.
“When we put our group together and we get everybody on the same page with regards to playing our style and pressing and attacking, I think you saw what we’re capable of,” Porter said. “… I wanted to open the floodgates in this game, and sometimes it takes just one game to really get your attack unlocked. It’s perfect to get some goals before the playoffs because now that will hopefully jump start our attack.”
Because while the Timbers finished the season on an eight-game unbeaten run, tied for the fourth longest in the league this year, they haven’t exactly been pouring in goals with reckless abandon. In four of those eight games, Portland scored a goal or less including 1-0 victories over the LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders.
“Obviously, it gives us a little boost of confidence,” Timbers captain and central midfielder Will Johnson said. “Valeri gets a few goals and Rodney Wallace gets another nice goal, and these are guys that we need scoring goals in the playoffs. I think it just gives the team a good boost and a good shutout for our defenders as well, so everybody is going in nice and confident into the biggest games of the year.”
The fact that Portland also played the four other Western Conference playoff teams in the season’s final month and a half also gives Portland confidence heading into their two-game conference semifinal matchup against the winner of Wednesday’s wild card matchup between the Rapids and Sounders. Aside from victories over fifth-place Colorado, fourth-place Seattle and third-place Galaxy, the Timbers played second-place Real Salt Lake to a scoreless draw.
“We want to be in form, flying, confident and going into the playoffs ready to make a run at it and win it and not just being happy being in it,” Porter said. “And I think with this team we think we can make a realistic run at it. … You always want to be playing your best football at the right time, and we’re fortunate it’s working out that way.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.