BEAVERTON, Ore. – Eighteen hours.
From the time the Portland Timbers left the airport on Sunday night, having returned from their Major League Soccer season finale in Vancouver, British Columbia, players had 18 hours on the ground. Come Monday afternoon, they were back at Portland International Airport, preparing to board another charter flight out of town.
“I was like, ‘Oh, no,’” Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala remembered, upon learning the team would play on Wednesday instead of Thursday, the other midweek option on Major League Soccer’s knockout round schedule.
“That was the first reaction that crossed my mind,” he said, before echoing sentiments the team has embraced since their return from Vancouver. “We are here. We want to win the competition, so no matter what the circumstances are, we just come and prepare to just get the job done.”
Such is life at the beginning of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, which the Timbers will begin in Frisco, Texas, against FC Dallas on Wednesday (6:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS). Win against Dallas, and the team will play again on Sunday, against either Western Conference top-seed Sporting Kansas City or rival Seattle Sounders FC.
“There’s a good spirit,” head coach Giovanni Savarese explained from the team’s training facility in Beaverton. “The guys look fresh. They’re excited about playing this match, and that’s the most important part.”
Important, and indicative of a reality the Timbers embraced over their regular season’s final week. With Oct. 21’s win at Providence Park over Real Salt Lake, Portland guaranteed their place in the playoffs, but they also created a world of decisions. Both Dallas and Seattle, sitting above the Timbers in the standings after 33 rounds, would be favored to win their final games of the season, and although passing either in the standings would see Portland open their postseason at home, going all-out for victory would mean starting the first XI ahead in Canada, of a short turnaround.
Dallas, hoping to climb from their third-place slot in the standings, elected to do so on Sunday in Colorado. With their loss, they not only slipped to fourth place, being passed by Seattle, but Wednesday’s hosts will now ask their choice XI to perform with a short turnaround.
“It’s supposed to be, right?” midfielder Diego Valeri answered, rhetorically, when asked if the rest gave Portland an advantage over Dallas’ state. “[The rest] is supposed to be [an edge].
“We have to make it happen, during the game. [Play with] intensity, rhythm with the ball, be aggressive, pressure. The game will dictate what happens during the process of the match, [but] I think we’ll have an advantage if we have guys rested.”
The Timbers bet on that advantage this weekend, opening the door to Monday’s quick turnaround. Come Wednesday, they’ll see if that bet pays off.