Timbers primed for MLS semifinal round

Portland begins 2-leg aggregate series at Houston

By Andy Buhler, Columbian staff writer

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PORTLAND — Caleb Porter pointed to the last game of the season as the Portland Timbers’ best stretch of the season.

Namely, the first 10 minutes of the second half.

They opened the final half of the final regular season match with a fast, aggressive and attack-happy play that was a blur for defenders, and netted Portland the game-winning goal against Vancouver.

And come Monday, the team will try to carry the same form that won Portland its last six home games into the postseason when it faces the Houston Dynamo on the road for the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.

Portland earned the top seed in the West for the second time under Porter.

And after winning its final six home games, the team enters the playoffs playing some of its best soccer of the season.

“I think we’re well-positioned,” Porter told reporters last week. “Obviously we showed after 34 games we’re best team in the West and that says it all. We’ve shown that we can score goals.”

Another plus? The core of the team knows how to win an MLS Cup.

“There are 5-6 guys in the starting lineup who have already won the MLS Cup,” Porter said, “So you talk about experience, don’t sleep on that.”

Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Jake Gleeson and Alvas Powell were all on the roster in 2015.

Adi, the Timbers premier striker who suffered an injured hamstring on Aug. 6, has not played since but it nearing a return. His absence offered an opportunity for Darren Mattocks, who has scored three goals and dished out two assists since Adi’s injury. Mattocks, 27, is in his second year with the Timbers and seventh in the league.

A mere three points separated the top four teams in the West in the regular season. But if Portland’s finish is indicative of anything, it’s that it may not be far from the where it was form-wise when it won the MLS Cup in 2015.

They are certainly better positioned for a playoff run this year.

At least according to the seeding.

In 2015, the Timbers secured the three seed and squeaked out of the knockout round with a win in penalty kicks.

As the top seed in the West, the Timbers rested last week while the knockout round took place. Their opponent, Houston, defeated Sporting Kansas City 1-0.

But it’s a different approach in the conference semifinals, where games are decided on aggregate, meaning goals are tallied between two games. The second game is hosted by the higher seed, which is Portland. The result in Houston carries over to the second match.

“I think you have to start games with a lot of energy,” Nagbe told reporters on Saturday. “Everything is at risk here so everyone sees the prize at the end of it. Both teams are going to have energy, but the main thing is having energy and as the game goes on letting your play come into the game.”

The Timbers won 4-2 at home and tied 2-2 on the road in two matchups against the Dynamo this season.

On the other side of the bracket in the Western Conference, the Northwest is well represented.

The two-seed Seattle Sounders and three-seed Vancouver Whitecaps face off. The winner will play the winner of the Timbers-Dynamo.