PORTLAND — The Portland Timbers gave their fans something special to celebrate on Thursday,
But while fans had the chance to bask in their team’s playoff beating of the rival Seattle Sounders, the Timbers had already turned their focus to the next hurdle.
The Major League Soccer playoff schedule doesn’t allow time for celebrating.
The Timbers will be back at it at 6 p.m. on Sunday, playing the first leg of the Western Conference finals series at Real Salt Lake.
Both teams have two days to recover from Thursday wins.
“We’re not going to talk about it. We’re not going to worry about it,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said about the quick turnaround. “We’re going to be fresh. We’re going to be flying.”
The return leg of this two-match, total goals series will be played on Nov. 24 in Portland. The less-than-ideal schedule is necessary because national team matches are scheduled around the world between Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. Major League Soccer does not want playoff matches to happen while teams are missing key players for international duty.
“As a player, you just control what you can control and don’t let the negatives creep in,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “We’re just excited that we’re fortunate enough to have earned the right to play in the Western Conference final. Regardless of where we have to travel, we’d play this game anywhere.”
Real Salt Lake advanced to the conference finals by eliminating the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy. It took 30 extra minutes on Thursday to beat the Galaxy 2-0 for a 2-1 series win. Given the physical and emotional investment his team gave for that result, RSL coach Jason Kreis is glad his team will be at home for Sunday’s match,
“I do think it’s a benefit that we won’t have to travel. I do think it’s a benefit that our guys are going to get to sleep in their own beds the next two nights,” Kreis said. “I’m pretty certain based on my own experience last night not being able to sleep that if I had played in that game, there would be no chance I would have got a single wink.”
There were probably Timbers fans who didn’t sleep a wink because of the ecstasy of eliminating the Sounders.
For the most part, Thursday’s match was a Portland clinic. But then Seattle’s DeAndre Yedlin scored in the 74th minute and set up Eddie Johnson’s goal in the 76th to deliver a wake-up call.
Those were the first goals scored by an opponent at Jeld-Wen Field since Aug. 20, when Real Salt Lake scored in added time to earn a 3-3 draw. Five consecutive opponents had left Portland without scoring.
The message from Porter and his players after the match was that, while not ideal, allowing their first two goals at home in five games might be a good thing.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call,” Timbers defender Futty Danso said. “Now, going into Salt Lake we’ve got to be more careful, play 90 minutes. No letdowns.”