Title shot for Timbers
The Portland Timbers play in a championship for the fourth time in club history — and for the third time in six seasons — on Tuesday, Aug. 11, when they battle Orlando City for the championship of the MLS is Back tournament.
Kickoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. ESPN is televising the match.
With a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League and more than $1 million on the line, this is not just a nice little story in a very strange year. It is a chance for Timbers veterans such as Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco to bring Portland a second championship in the Timbers' 10th MLS season.
On the other side is an Orlando City club that, in its sixth MLS season, has not yet qualified for the playoffs, much less played for a trophy. But in their first year guided by Oscar Pareja, the Lions have become tough to score against even while attacking from both flanks.
Orlando City has one of the best players of his generation, 33-year-old Nani, playing at a high level. The Portuguese winger has three goals and four assists in the tournament and if Orlando City prevails, he figures to be chosen the MVP.
"I think it brings us confidence on the field knowing that we have someone like (Nani) leading us," said Chris Mueller, who starts opposite Nani in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Figure Nani and Mueller will want to get at Portland's outside backs, so don't expect to see Jorge Villafana or Chris Duvall/Pablo Bonilla bombing forward for Portland. Instead, look for Eryk Williamson or, occasionally, Chara, to provide the extra attacker for Portland when they have the chance.
If Portland wins, the MVP honor will go to Blanco. The Argentine attacker has been the driving force for Portland with his effort, skill and creativity. The question is, does Blanco start on the left wing? Or does Giovannis Savarese decide to bring Diego Valeri off the bench and slip Blanco into the middle of the field?
It's hard to imagine Valeri not starting a match of this magnitude. At 34, he can't carry a match the way he once did. But his quality in the attacking third and on set pieces remains elite.
The challenge for Blanco, if he starts on the left, will be defensive responsibility. Orlando's outside backs love to get forward, and Ruan, the right back, is a difficult speed matchup for anyone.
On the other hand, the Timbers love to get out in open space on the counter-attack. Don't be surprised if Savarese starts the match in a defensive posture, hoping for a quick strike opportunity or two to give his team the upper hand.
Whatever approach he takes, the Timbers should enter this match with plenty of confidence. They'll also have had decent rest between matches for the first time since the knockout round started.
Savarese, never one to talk much about individual performances, continued to praise the maturity his group has shown — both in the way players problem-solve during a match and in the committed work they have done going all the way back to the start of the quarantine in March.
Explaining how his team reached the final despite every game coming down to the wire, Savarese pointed to the buy-in from everyone on the roster in terms of both preparation and execution.
"The group has stayed steady — understanding that the strength of the group is the group," Savarese said.
NOTES — Yimmi Chara (thigh), who missed the semifinal, was listed as questionable. Also listed as questionable on the injury list is outside back Marco Farfan (ankle). … In addition to the MLS Cup finals in 2015 (won at Columbus) and 2018 (lost at Atlanta), the Timbers reached Soccer Bowl '75 in their first season in the North American Soccer League. They lost that match to a Tampa Bay Rowdies side more suited to the narrow field at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California. … Timbers players on the ballot for MLS is Back tournament awards: Blanco is nominated for Player of the Tournament and for the Best XI. Other nominees for Player of the Tournament are Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake, Orlando City's Nani and Los Angeles FC's Diego Rossi, who scored a tournament high seven goals in five games.
Joining Blanco on the Best XI ballot are Jeremy Ebobisse (team-high four goals), Chara and defender Larrys Mabiala.
The Best XI will be determined by a media vote. The Player of the Tournament, Young Player of the Tournament and goalkeeper of the tournament will be a 75% media vote and 25% fan vote.
Fan voting will be open from 7 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. PT Wednesday, with the winners announced at 10 a.m. Friday.
• The Timbers on Monday announced they have partnered with Portland non-profit African Road to build a soccer field in Munini, Rwanda, at the Togetherness Soccer Center. It is the first time the Timbers' Fields for All initiative has built a field outside of Oregon.
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