Before remembering the Portland Timbers’ performance on October 31, 2018, remember the 10 days that led up to that match. Remember that in the choices the Timbers made during that time, they called their shot, one that came good with that season’s 2-1, playoff-opening win at FC Dallas which will be this week's featured PTFC: From the Archives, presented by KeyBank, broadcast. Please note the new time: 1pm PT on Saturday on KPDX FOX 12 PLUS.
For now, those 10 days: Even before the team defeated Real Salt Lake 3-0 at home on October 21, the Timbers had a plan in place. If they won, they would most likely rotate the starting XI for the season finale in Vancouver, resting key players ahead of a potential road playoff opener in three days against FC Dallas. If things broke differently on the league’s last weekend, the Timbers could end up with a home playoff game, but the scenarios weren’t under their control, with the most likely outcomes leaving them traveling on short rest to Frisco, Texas.
The plan for Vancouver was a type of middle ground – putting faith in the team’s depth to pull out a result – but when the team lost 2-1 in Alphonso Davies’ MLS sendoff, they got the outcome they’d prepared for. In their hearts, the Timbers knew they could beat FC Dallas. The rest of legs of veterans like Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, Sebastían Blanco and Liam Ridgewell only helped the odds.
It took 23 minutes for that bet to come good, with Diego Valeri’s first-half opener giving the Timbers a lead they’d never relinquish. Though Larrys Mabiala’s last-man challenge on Dominique Badji left Portland a man down over the game’s final 32 minutes, Valeri sealed the match before its most-tense moments, completing his brace in the 71st minute of the Timbers’ 2-1, Halloween triumph.
“I think the hero was the team,” Valeri would say afterward. “It was an ugly game. They played well and we fought for this and we advanced. And that’s what we wanted.”
Calling Valeri’s goals an “opener,” or merely saying he “complet[ed] his brace” captures nothing about what made that night special. His first score was classic Valeri – a right-footed blast from 24 yards out, one that sent goalkeeper Jesse González crashing into a goalpost in pursuit of a perfectly placed shot. An offside call had kept Dallas from taking the lead 11 minutes earlier, with the first 20 minutes of the match playing out under the home team’s control, but as Valeri, so clutch in such moments, lined up his shot from the left goal, the match seemed destined to turn.
His second goal was more of a denouement, but it was also in line with everything Timbers fans have come to expect from their captain. His team was up one on the road, in the playoffs, but they’d lost a man to a red card 13 minutes before. The rest of the match could play out in slow ascent for the favorites: the wearing down of a team who made two road trips in the previous four days; who’d have incentive to slide back, hold on and hope. Instead, that team broke over the defense in the 71st minute, leveraged work from Jeremy Ebobisse that forced González and defender Reto Ziegler out of position, and set up their star for a clinching goal. From just outside the penalty area, it wasn’t a difficult finish, and it was one Valeri’s put himself in position to make so many times before. Of course, Valeri sent the Timbers through.
“We are fighting for another star,” Valeri said. “We came here and it is a very difficult place, a very difficult team and we showed character today.”
It was the first of three dramatic triumphs during the 2018 postseason. A penalty-kick showdown against Seattle would follow. Then, a second-half, second-leg comeback in Kansas City. In that light, Valeri’s performance in Dallas foreshadowed the team’s Cup-final run, making good on an occasion which, in rotating their team against Vancouver, Portland always intended to embrace.