Preview of MLS Cup Playoffs: Portland Timbers


The Portland Timbers enter the MLS Cup playoffs and want to emulate their success in 2015.

Two-time finalists and one-time champions, Portland are always dangerous at this time of year and although they are a bit suspicious defensively, they have one of the most potent attacks in MLS.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Portland Timbers ahead of the off – season – from tactics to key players and their chances of winning the grand prize.

The Timbers have been a bit inconsistent this season, only putting together a serious undefeated streak – eight games (seven wins) from late August to early October. They even had to endure a three-match losing streak towards the end.

But three straight wins to end the regular season ensured that Portland finished fourth in the West, meaning they will host Minnesota United in Round One. The Timbers conceded 52 goals in 34 games, but also scored 56. So at least they should offer us lots of entertainment.

Gio Savarese has had success in MLS as a player and head coach. / Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, Giovanni Savarese tries to make his Timbers side more expansive in the middle of the season. And every time it starts to fall apart before he remembers that they are at their best by sucking up the press and hitting teams in transition. Portland have the talent to win the Supporters’ Shield, if only they would stick to their weapons.

With that out of the way, expect Savarese to deploy a 4-2-3-1 system. Jose Van Rankin and Claudio Bravo will provide offensive traction from the full-back where possible, but are primarily stoppers on either side of Larry’s Mabiala and Dario Zuparic. Diego Chara has long been the No. 6 best in MLS and even though he is well into his 30s, he is still frustratingly effective (from the opponent’s perspective). Cristhian Paredes is a little more expansive alongside him.

But it’s in the final third where it’s really fun with Portland. Sebastian Blanco remains an MVP level No. 10, can split a defense with exact passes, leave opponents in the dust with his dribbles, or tear one in the upper corner from distance. Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla will try to cut the inside to get shots on goal – the latter is especially deadly during the playoffs. And Felipe Mora has added a new dimension to Portland’s forward line – he is deadly in front of goal, strong in the air and hugely important to keep the ball up.

Sebastian Blanco: With four goals and six assists in 13 games and the Player of the Tournament at MLS is back in the bag, Sebastian Blanco looked confident to win the MVP award last season. That was until an ACL injury put him out of action from September to June this year – his second such injury during his career. But it is safe to say that Blanco is back. In just 1,184 regular season minutes, the Argentine scored seven goals and six assists, averaging 2.1 chances created and 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. Blanco rolls on his way into the playoffs, which is only good for the Timbers.

Sebastian Blanco makes 3-0 in favor of @TimbersFC! #PORvATX // #DecisionDay

– Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 8, 2021

Diego Chara: At 35, you would expect Diego Chara to start slowing down. And yet the Colombian was ranked top among Timbers players for press (716) and second for recovery (218), tackles (83) and blocks (52). Chara remains the central part that this Timbers team works around, breaking up resistance attacks and distributing the ball quickly to initiate transitions. In the playoffs’ melting pot, his experience can make a big difference.

Felipe Mora: Ever since his arrival in early 2020, Felipe Mora has made Portland a much more cohesive attacking unit. The Chilean striker is extremely smart with his movement and excellent on the ball both on the ground and with his head. 20 goals and eight assists in 57 club matches only scratches the surface of his quality, although Mora must be the best at scoring if the Timbers are to go deep in the playoffs.

Can Timbers go all the way? | Matthew Burt

With two MLS Cup finals and a win in the MLS Back Tournament since 2015, you can never write off the Timbers in a knockout situation. If nothing else, they have enough attacking talent to brutally force themselves through a round or two.

But even though Portland beat Minnesota United at Providence Park, they then face a trip to Colorado Rapids, which topped the Western Conference and are incredibly difficult to beat. It may be the end of the road, but even that would be seen as a relatively successful return for Portland.

Prediction: Semifinal in the conference

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