Whitecaps FC-Timbers Preview
Following an epic knockout-round triumph, the Portland Timbers believe they have enough energy and momentum to successfully carry them through their next challenge.
Facing a quick turnaround, the Timbers host the rival Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.
Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey stopped a shot in the 11th round of the penalty shootout moments after he scored for his own team in Thursday's elimination-game victory over Sporting Kansas City, which came 7-6 on penalties following a 2-all draw.
"We've got guys that want to win and are hungry," Portland coach Caleb Porter told the official website of MLS.
"We're not satisfied. We want more."
Portland entered the playoffs on a three-match winning streak. However, the Timbers appeared in danger of being sent home early Thursday until Maximiliano Urruti scored the equalizer in the 118th minute to keep hope alive. The Timbers displayed the same tenacity and grit Thursday that also carried them through those final games of the regular season.
"It's a testament to how bought-in everybody is," Porter said. "At this stage of the season in the playoffs, you need players to make big plays under pressure, and we got that."
Portland, which lost to Real Salt Lake in the 2013 conference finals, fell 2-1 at Vancouver in March then drew the next two meetings that came at home. This will be the first meeting in the MLS playoffs between the Cascadia rivals.
"We look forward to a series with Vancouver, (which) is a very good team," Porter said. "No doubt (our) guys will be ready. No doubt they will be turned around once the whistle blows, the adrenaline goes, they won't feel it. We'll be ready."
While Portland rides plenty of momentum into this two-leg matchup, the Whitecaps should have at least a fair amount after ending their 0-3-2 league stretch with a 3-0 victory over Houston last Sunday. The Whitecaps and Timbers each had 53 points, but Vancouver finished second in the West by having one more victory than Portland.
These teams shared the league lead with seven road victories apiece, but the Whitecaps are 0-5-1 in all competitions away from home since winning 3-0 at Seattle on Aug. 1.
However, Vancouver coach Carl Robinson doesn't believe his team should be written off before they've started.
"We're one of the top four seeds in the league, and I'm a firm believer that the league doesn't lie," Robinson said. "We earned it, now it's playoff time... We'll look forward to the challenge."
His players also appear to be up to the task despite their late-season struggles.
"It's not going to be easy," Vancouver keeper David Ousted said. "It's going to be challenging, but we hopefully have a little more in our tank and we have to show that."
Vancouver expects to finally regain the services of midfielder Nicolas Mezquida, who hasn't played a league match since Sept. 19 because of a hamstring injury. Mezquida's only goal this season came in that March victory over Portland.
The Whitecaps also hope fellow midfielder Pedro Morales (hamstring) will see his first action since Oct. 3 at some point in these two contests.
Vancouver will host the final leg of this semifinal matchup next Sunday.