Major League Soccer

MLS Cup Playoffs preview: Portland Timbers

Chris Smith
The Timbers have been an entertaining outfit this season.
The Timbers have been an entertaining outfit this season.
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The Portland Timbers head into the MLS Cup Playoffs looking to emulate their success of 2015.

Two-time finalists and one-time champions, Portland are always dangerous at this time of year and although they're a little suspect defensively, they have one of the most potent offenses in MLS.

Here's everything you need to know about the Portland Timbers ahead of the post season - from tactics to key players, and their chances of winning the big prize.


How did Portland Timbers make it to the MLS Cup Playoffs?

The Timbers have been a little inconsistent this season, only putting together one serious unbeaten streak - eight games (seven wins) from the end of August to the start of October. They even endured a three-game losing streak near the end.

But three consecutive wins to close out the regular season ensured Portland finished fourth in the West, meaning they'll host Minnesota United in Round One. The Timbers conceded 52 goals in 34 games, but also scored 56. So, at the very least, they should offer us plenty of entertainment.


Giovanni Savarese: Tactics and style of play

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

Every single year, Giovanni Savarese tries to make his Timbers side more expansive in the middle of the season. And every single time, it starts to fall apart before he remembers they're at their best soaking up pressure and hitting teams in transition. Portland have the talent to win Supporters' Shield, if only they'd stick to their guns.

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

But its' in the final third where it really gets fun with Portland. Sebastian Blanco remains an MVP level No.10, able to split a defense with precise passing, leave opponents in the dust with his dribbling, or rip one into the top corner from distance. Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla will look to cut inside to get shots on goal - the latter is particularly deadly in Playoff season. And Felipe Mora has added a new dimension to Portland's forward line - he's lethal in front of goal, strong in the air, and hugely important at holding the ball up.


Who are Portland Timbers' key players?

Sebastian Blanco: With four goals and six assists in 13 games and the Player of the Tournament award at MLS is Back in the bag, Sebastian Blanco looked a sure bet to win the MVP award last season. That was until an ACL injury put him out of action from September until June this year - his second such injury during his career. But it's safe to say Blanco is back. In just 1,184 regular season minutes, the Argentine notched seven goals and six assists, averaging 2.1 chances created and 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. Blanco is rolling heading into the Playoffs, which is just great for the Timbers.

Diego Chara: At 35 years old, you'd expect Diego Chara to start slowing down. And yet, the Colombian ranked top among Timbers players for pressures (716), and second for recoveries (218), tackles (83), and blocks (52). Chara remains the central piece around which this Timbers team operates, breaking up opposition attacks and distributing the ball quickly to initiate transitions. In the Playoff melting pot, his experience could make all the difference.

Felipe Mora: Ever since his arrival at the start of 2020, Felipe Mora has made Portland a far 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 appearances only scratches the surface of his quality, though Mora will have to be at his goalscoring best if the Timbers are to go deep in the Playoffs.


How far can Portland Timbers go in the MLS Cup Playoffs?

Can the Timbers go all the way? | Matthew Burt
Can the Timbers go all the way? | Matthew Burt

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

But even if Portland beat Minnesota United at Providence Park, they then face a trip to the Colorado Rapids, who topped the Western Conference and are incredibly tough to beat. That could be the end of the road, but even that would be regarded as a relatively successful return for Portland.

Prediction: Conference semi-final

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