COLUMBUS, Ohio – There was that 11-round, 22-penalty-kick shootout in the Knockout Round which included a potential playoff-ending double-post miss by Sporting Kansas City's Saad Abdul-Salaam. And there was that last-ditch, stoppage time block by Nat Borchers to see off FC Dallas in the Western Conference Championship.
So are the Portland Timbers a team of destiny in 2015?
"Do I believe in destiny? That's a deep question," Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said, addressing media at Friday's 2015 MLS Cup pregame press conference.
The third-year Timbers boss had apparently spent time wrestling with the very question, coming to the realization that as with other aspects of life, what you reap is what you sow.
"I think when you put the work in, then you earn it – maybe not short term, but long term," Porter said. "You look at my team, my career, I've had a lot of failure. I've suffered, but I've also succeeded. I've had the ups and downs that you'd expect.
"To succeed, you're going to have to suffer some. But if you're able hang on and going through the suffering then you survive. That says everything about our team: We've suffered a little bit, we've had pressure, it was fair."
After dropping below the playoff red line on October 4, following a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, the Timbers rebounded to win their final three games and finish No. 3 in the Western Conference. For defender Liam Ridgewell, the climb – a microcosm of the year-long climb from last season's playoff-less finish – felt like the culmination of a season-long, collective commitment to hard work following the "wake-up call" provided by the failures of 2014.
"This side has worked hard for each other," Ridgewell said. "Like the gaffer said, at every position, everyone's worked hard together and stuck to the job. That's been the great thing about us. No one's been off on their own agenda."
Facing a formidable opponent on Sunday, when Columbus Crew SC will play in front of a raucous, sold-out home crowd at MAPFRE Stadium, the Timbers are trying to maintain that focus for one final week. The 10-month journey can culminate in 90 minutes.
"It'll pass by in the blink of an eye," Ridgewell said. "We'll stay calm looking to win the game and carry on like it's a normal game, then celebrate like it's a big game after."