The Portland Timbers didn’t make the MLS Cup playoffs. But the expansion team does have connections to the Major League Soccer championship match to be played on Sunday in Los Angeles.
The ties are especially close with the Houston Dynamo, who will challenge the Los Angeles Galaxy for the MLS Cup.
Portland head coach John Spencer was an assistant coach for Houston before taking the Timbers’ post. Timbers defenders Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer came to Portland in a midseason trade that sent midfielder Adam Moffat to Houston.
“I fancy Houston to win the game, not just because my loyalties there or the allegiance to the people I know there,” Spencer said. “I don’t think it will be as easy a game as people are predicting.”
Spencer said Houston has the big-game experience and won’t be intimidated by the stage, or by the star-studded opponent.
“The pressure’s on L.A. because they haven’t been beat at home all year,” Spencer said, noting that conventional wisdom is that David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and the rest of the Galaxy are light years ahead of the Dynamo.
Portland, and Timbers fans, saw first hand how tough the Dynamo can be last month. Needing a win at Jeld-Wen Field to solidify their playoff berth, the Dynamo imposed their will for a critical 2-0 win.
That, Chabala said, was an example of the professional experience of Houston’s players.
“It’s impressive. If you just look at all the players who have come through that team, it says a lot about that organization,” Chabala said.
Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury, noting that the Timbers narrowly missed the playoffs, said he believes Portland could be in Houston’s position.
“It’s exciting for (Houston) and it’s tough for us, because I think we have a group that could have gone on a good (playoff) run,” Jewsbury said.
Chabala said he plans to attend the MLS Cup as a fan. Jewsbury, who played in the 2004 MLS Cup for Kansas City (a 3-2 loss to D.C. United), said he reflects often on that game, and how close he came to being a champion.
“There’s always something that’s bugged me about watching the final,” Jewsbury said. “It’s hard. You obviously want to see what happens. But when you’re not a part of it, it get’s at you.”