PORTLAND — The injury bug bit the Timbers again, and this time they couldn’t withstand.
Portland, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, saw its Major League Soccer season end in front of a sold-out Providence Park in the second, equally as physical leg of the Western Conference semifinals 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo.
“This is one that hurts,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “We felt we could move on, but we didn’t. When dust settles, I think we’ll look back and realize it was a good season. But it’s also a season where you think to yourself ‘what if.’ ”
The Timbers tied the club record winning 15 games in the regular season, earned the top seed in the West and overcame bouts with injury all season. Had they won Sunday, Portland would have had 15 days to recover before the first game of the Western Conference finals on Nov. 21.
But it was injuries that proved to do the club in.
Forward Darren Mattocks, who had been starting in the place of injured Fanendo Adi, left with concussion symptoms in the ninth minute, adding to the laundry list of Timbers.
“That made it tough, but in saying that we played extremely bright in that first half,” Porter said.
Portland got on the board first in the 39th minute, but the Dynamo’s equalizing goal four minutes later forced the Timbers to play from behind the rest of the way.
Diego Valeri, Portland’s MVP candidate forward, carried the club through stretches during the season, but couldn’t find the back of the net. He had two shots, the second sailed high and wide in the 55th minute.
“In the first half we couldn’t manage that 1-0 result,” Valeri said. “If we could have played better, maybe we win the game.”
Since the MLS playoff format values goals scoring away from home as tiebreakers, the Dynamo — who now advance play the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference finals — would have advanced with a 1-1 tie.
“You know they’re going to sit behind the ball and play for that, so we’ve got to try and search out the second goal, and they hit us from long range,” Portland defender Liam Ridgewell said.
In a postseason marred with injuries, Portland couldn’t climb out of the hole with its depleted roster. To add insult to injury, Timbers’ defender Roy Miller — who started 26 games this season — ruptured his Achilles tendon the day before the game.
“We weren’t at full strength very often this year,” Porter said. “And yet we were able to earn 15 wins … tonight we were as thin as ever.”
Though it played from behind for the majority of the game, Portland started out strong.
Asprilla controlled a cross from Vytautas Andriuskevicius with a touch across his body and blasted a shot past Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis to put Portland up 1-0 in the 39th minute.
Then Houston found rhythm in its attack, and almost immediately equalized.
The Dynamo built possession and opportunities, which culminated five minutes later when Dynamo defender Dylan Remick scored off a free kick. Remick, who spent the last four years a Sounder, received a bouncing header off a free kick and sent the ball sailing past an outstretched Jeff Attinella. It was only the second goal of Remick’s MLS career.
The goal took the wind out of the Timbers’ sails. Porter labeled it “the killer.”
That said, “I still thought we’d find a goal in the second half,” Porter added.
But Houston’s defense swallowed up the depleted Timbers attack.
Portland’s Sebastian Blanco, who was injured in the first leg of the series in Houston, came off the bench in the 56th minute. It was the Timbers’ fifth substitution of the series, but the first that was not injury-related.
Houston subbed in Mauro Manotas in the 73rd minute, and he delivered a rocket shot that scored from well outside the 18-yard box in transition to give the Dynamo the lead.
The win knocks Portland from what would have been a Cascadia rematch with the regional rival Seattle Sounders in the next round.
The loss will undoubtedly sting for quite some time, but Porter found optimism in the future during the bitter moments after the loss.
“Moving forward, we don’t need to make a lot of changes,” Porter said. “I think we can still get better in a few spots. We won’t hesitate to continue to add pieces. No doubt we’ll add some pieces to try to get even better.
“But we’ve rebuild our depth, rebuilt our core, added some quality in spots and moving forward we’re going to come back better than ever.”