A normal home game? Porter hopes it is for Timbers
Sunday's match at Providence Park is not just another outing for the Portland Timbers.
But if his team treats it as a normal home game, Caleb Porter is confident things will work out for his side as the MLS Western Conference semifinal series with Houston wraps up.
The game is at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
"I'm looking for a normal home performance, which is usually a win," Porter says.
Win and the Timbers advance to the conference finals and a showdown with the Seattle Sounders.
A scoreless draw through 90 minutes on Sunday would mean 30 extra minutes — no sudden death — followed by penalty kicks, if needed.
Any draw in which goals are scored will advance Houston to the conference finals on the away-goals tiebreaker.
Thing is, the lineup at Porter's disposal likely won't be normal.
The list of injuries the Timbers weathered in the scoreless first leg on Monday might not be much shorter by Sunday.
Diego Chara (fractured foot) is out for the season. The most encouraging report after Monday's match was that Darlington Nagbe's exit was precautionary. Unknown is how swiftly Sebastian Blanco (foot burns), David Guzman (knee sprain) or Larrys Mabiala (hip strain) can heal. All are listed as questionable.
Portland finished the match in Houston with veteran Roy Miller to the right of Liam Ridgewell in the center of the defense. Lawrence Olum and Amobi Okugo were manning the defensive midfield spots usually held by Guzman and Chara. When Nagbe left, Darren Mattocks shifted to the left wing and rookie Jeremy Ebobisse entered to play forward.
Including forward Fanendo Adi, who hasn't played since Aug. 6 and is listed as questionable, the Timbers finished Leg 1 at Houston without six first-choice players.
Still, offseason additions Miller, Olum and Okugo give Porter more depth than in previous seasons. And, if Portland advances, the first leg of the West finals will be played on Nov. 21 at Seattle, a 16-day window that would allow significant healing time.
Houston also is dealing with a few absences, including goalkeeper Tyler Deric who was suspended for this match after his Tuesday arrest on domestic violence charges.
Reasons for the Timbers to be confident include their six-match home winning streak and the Dynamo having posted only one win away from home this season and not having won on artificial turf since 2013.
Houston's attack relies almost entirely on counterattacks, an approach the Timbers are used to seeing from visitors to Providence Park.
"Almost every game is a game where we have to deal with the counter," Porter says. "So that's the type of thing we deal with all the time at home, and we've dealt with it really well."
Houston is particularly dangerous on the counterattack because wing players Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto are speedy and are deployed by Wilmer Cabrera to attack as soon as the opponent turns over possession.
That can mean space in the attacking third for Portland's outside backs, if they choose to push forward.
"Quioto and Elis are two of the fastest guys in the league," Porter says. "I'm hesitant to use the word cheat, because it's a tactical plan. … They are given the freedom to take up (attacking) positions. It's a little bit the cat and mouse. I thought we played it pretty well last game."
Always important, a first goal Sunday will ramp up the pressure on the team that falls behind — especially Portland if Houston takes a lead because a tie would then become a Dynamo victory in the series.
"We have to be smart and patient to make sure we get that first goal," Porter says. "Now, we get the first goal, they have to open up a bit and hopefully that leads to the next (Portland goal). Then you start to build a margin and a cushion versus sitting there on one goal knowing if they level it they're through. So those are things you've got to think about."
The Timbers won the MLS Cup tournament two seasons ago, and that experience could help in this scenario. Porter points to the way his team handled poor field conditions and three in-game injuries during the first leg at Houston as an example of how such experience pays off.
"You see the maturity, and you see the tactical intelligence and emotional intelligence our group has," he says. "And that's what you have to have to be a good tournament team."