Portland Timbers

Timbers draw Group F for MLS is Back Tournament

Timbers draw Group F for MLS is Back Tournament

The MLS is back (almost)! 

On Wednesday the league announced its return in the MLS is Back Tournament, a World Cup-style tournament to be played at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. 

Like the World Cup, all 26 teams will compete in group stages, with 16 teams advancing to the "Knockout Stage."

The groups were drawn on Thursday afternoon, and the Portland Timbers found themselves in Group F, one of the toughest groups of the tournament. 

They will be joined by LAFC, the LA Galaxy, and the Houston Dynamo. 

During group play, each team will play three matches. At the end of those three matches, the top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout round, as well as the four third-place teams with the best records.

The knockout round will be a single-elimination tournament to decide the overall winner. If games in the knockout round are tied at the end of regulation, they will immediately advance to penalty kicks to decide a winner.

Teams are scheduled to arrive in Orlando for the start of "preseason" training on June 24th, with the first group stage games beginning on July 8th. 

The knockout round will start on July 25, with the championship game scheduled for August 11th. 

 

 

Portland Timbers could have complained about lack of rest, instead they won

Portland Timbers could have complained about lack of rest, instead they won

Despite only having three days to rest, the Portland Timbers are headed to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida after defeating NYCFC 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

"We could have come into this match and complained and said ‘we have less days, we’re tired, we have players that haven’t rested enough,'" said head coach Giovanni Savarese. "But it’s about figuring things out and the players coming and showing up. At the end of the day, all that you planned only works when at the end, you get a win."

The Timbers did just that despite falling behind early on a dubious penalty kick call that gave NYCFC a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute. 

"We had a slow start," said Savarese. "We had some moments in which we were a little bit exposed. We tried to make sure that we defended well, but then we opened ourselves a little bit."

However, with Diego Valeri on the bench due to the quick turnaround, the Timbers got an equalizer right before halftime when Sebastian Blanco caught a rebound inside the box and converted the shot into the back of the net to level Portland, 1-1 heading into the half.

"The response was fantastic from the guys to be able to equalize and go into the locker rooms 1-1," said Savarese. "That was very important. We had to lift up towards the end of the first half our play. The ball movement, the space that we were taking, but we had a plan in place and part of the plan guys executed."

Heading back onto the pitch for the second half, Savarese had Diego Valeri replace Marvin Loría in the eleven as he planned going into the match.

"[Marvin] Loría. Loría played 45 minutes in which he did his job. He did what we asked him to do and it was perfect. We had a plan for [Diego] Valeri to come in at halftime."

How did Valeri do? Only scored the go-ahead goal, assisted by designated player Jaroslaw Niezgoda, in the 65th minute to pull the Timbers in front, 2-1. 

"He came in and he contributed in a big way," Valeri's head coach said of him. "He was fresh, was able to find good pockets, created opportunities, and was fantastic, like [Andy] Polo, like all the players today played at top level.”

Speaking of Andy Polo, when Savarese called his number in the 74th minute to replace Eryk Williamson it took him exactly one minute and eleven seconds to wow everyone watching.

There was a reason that Polo took that strike with confidence.

"It was a very important goal today. The execution was perfect," recalls Savarese. "He’s been training that, he didn’t say it, but he’s been training everyday. So, it’s not something that just came today, he’s been putting the ball there in practice."

Polo's celebration of what could easily be the goal of the year for the Timbers was what really stole the show, however. And then the backstory only makes it better.

"In regards to my celebration, it was for my daughter, really," said Polo who scored only his second goal in a Portland uniform. "She was asking me for that celebration, and I just wanted to give that to her."

While Polo's goal and celebration was the talk of Timbers Twitter, the Peruvian forward gave Blanco credit for the assist: "It was a great assist by Seba." 

In fact, Blanco has been all over the stat sheet for Portland so far this tournament with two goals and five assists. 

"Seba [Sebastián Blanco] has been great in this tournament," Savarese said of Blanco, who scored a goal and had an assist Saturday evening. "We know what we have in him. He shows that every single practice, every single day when he’s with us."

Also, not to bury the lead, but the contest was the 300th match of Diego Chara's MLS career. All 300 games have been in a Portland Timbers uniform. 

"Today was a special day because it was [Diego] Chara’s 300th match," said Savarese. "So it was meaningful and very important for us that we wanted Chara to remember it in a very special way.”

“There’s no better way to play my 300th game with the same jersey, the Timbers jersey. I’m very happy, proud of this team," Chara told reporters following the game. "I feel really happy to make my 300th game with the Timbers jersey.”

Now, the Timbers will shift their focus to the Philadephia Union who is awaiting them in the semifinals, where Savarese will once again call on his players to get a win despite less rest than the opponent.

"Now we’re going to have also less days. We have to figure it out, but the heart of the guys, the way they’re going about it has been fantastic.

"They make me feel very proud and also, that experience they have collected throughout the years, players like [Sebastián] Blanco, [Diego] Valeri, like [Diego] Chara, and all of them, we have seen a great equilibrium in them and we strongly hope they continue this trend because Philadelphia’s going to be a very difficult team.”

Portland will play the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, August 5th at 5:00 p.m. PT in the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament. 

Portland Timbers defeat NYCFC to advance to the MLS is Back semifinals

Portland Timbers defeat NYCFC to advance to the MLS is Back semifinals

The Portland Timbers are headed to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, FL. 

Thanks to goals by Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and Andy Polo, the Timbers overcame a 1-0 deficit against NYCFC to win 3-1 in regulation. 

NYCFC got first blood after Portland Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala was called for a yellow card in the box. Jesus Medina would convert the kick for NYFC to take a 1-0 lead.

Then, in the 43rd minute, Sebastian Blanco caught a rebound inside the box and converted the shot into the back of the net to level Portland, 1-1 heading into the half.

NYCFC dominated large portions of the first half and held a 59% possession advantage after 45 minutes. 

Then, Diego Valeri came onto the pitch at halftime and gave the Timbers the lead in the 65th minute to pull the Timbers in front, 2-1. Designated player Jaroslaw Niezgoda had the assist. 

But the show wasn't over yet.

In the 74th minute, Andy Polo replaced Eryk Williamson and made his mark on the match immediately. One minute and eleven seconds to be exact. 

Portland will play the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, August 5th at 5:00 p.m. PT in the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament. 

The Portland Timbers attacking talent has given them a good problem

The Portland Timbers attacking talent has given them a good problem

The Portland Timbers have gone undefeated in the MLS is Back Tournament, partially in thanks to their offensive attack that was lacking to begin the season.

"In the beginning of the season it wasn't easy for us," recalls midfielder Diego Valeri. "But then we had a lot of meetings and we clarified a lot of stuff and obviously it's all about the quality and level of the players and the way we connect [with] each other.

"When your attacking players are [playing at] a good level then they create chances... We have to keep the level until the final."

But the question remains of who exactly will be leading that offensive attack.

So far, striker Jeremy Ebobisse has started in three of the four games played in the tournament, and scored in all three group stage games.

However, designated player and 2020 offseason acquisition Jaroslaw Niezgoda started the final game of the group stage and was subbed onto the field in the 63rd minute in the Round of 16. In the 67th minute, he scored after being on the pitch for just four minutes. 

Then, with the match against  FC Cincinnati heading for penalty kicks, Savarese subbed off Ebobisse in the 90th minute. Niezgoda would kick the game-winning penalty in the shootout to advance Portland to the quarterfinals.

What are the thoughts of head coach Giovanni Savarese about his strikers? He thinks it is a good problem to have.

“We knew that [Niezgoda is] a player that can finish, that has experience," explained Savarese. "He has different qualities than Jebo and one thing we are very happy that he's getting stronger, getting fit because he hasn’t played for a long time [for the Timbers], he hasn’t practiced until not long ago. We’re getting to know him more and more. His performance so far has been improving and getting better and we saw his quality on goal.

"Jebo has been doing very well this year with an even higher level of performance. We see the development of Jebo being fantastic and we have another very good option that is [Felipe] Mora... As the coach, you want to be in this situation of having difficult decisions to make. They’re all performing, they’re all doing well and that’s what we need.”

Mora entered the game on Tuesday replacing Ebobisse and kicked the team's third penalty kick. 

However, all players have the same goal: to win the MLS is Back Tournament and earn a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.

In my view it's probably the most important thing. I really want to play a CONCACAF so... I think it's a great motivation and for the group I think it's the same.  It gives us the opportunity to put the team in an international cup and then that's a different level of prestige. -- Diego Valeri

Portland will play NYCFC at 7:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, August 1 in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament. 

Steve Clark shakes off mistake, becomes the hero for the Portland Timbers

Steve Clark shakes off mistake, becomes the hero for the Portland Timbers

It appeared to be another heartbreaking blunder in Steve Clark's win-or-go-home career when he gave up a game-tying penalty kick in the 81st minute after failing to secure the ball. 

(Timbers fans will all remember when his gaffe gave Portland the early lead in the 2015 MLS Cup.)

FC Cincinnati converted the penalty kick to tie the game 1-1. 

But Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese still had trust in Clark.

"Players make mistakes every now and then and it is very important to give them trust in difficult moments," said Savarese. "We knew that things would happen, and he knew Steve knew the situation. We know players try their very best match after match and even after this match, the PKs, Steve showed the trust that we give him is worth it. So, I think that was wonderful.”

Then, in the 86th minute, a shot bounced off of Clark's hands to hit the post and was inches away from the back of the net. 

Despite Clark's errors, the Timbers got the game to go to penalty kicks with a chance to earn their way into the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament. 

Entering penalties, Savarese still had full faith in his keeper.

“I’m a firm believer that the most important part is always how people respond to situations that are difficult and if you know Clark, he is one the bounces back right away,” he said.

“When we went to PKs he told me, ‘I got it. Don’t worry.‘ He’s one we know will understand he could’ve been better in the situation before but right away comes back strong as he did during the PKs.”

Savarese wasn't alone in his confidence in Clark. Sebastian Blanco echoed his coach's sentiment.

“If you knew Steve Clark, you would know he doesn’t need support," said Blanco. "I love his personality. Steve knew about his mistake and he knew that he would save us. Everybody makes mistakes and there was really no need for us to go that way. He knew that at the very end he was going to be able to perform and fortunately enough we were able to score our penalty kicks too. He fixed his mistake and there was really no need for any conversation after the match.”

Got it he did as with penalties tied 2-2, Clark guessed the correct way and saved a shot from  Jurgen Locadia. Then down 3-2, Kendall Waston's penalty was off frame giving Clark two saves to close out penalties.

Then, Timbers designated player Jaroslaw Niezgoda sent the Timbers to the next round of the MLS is Back Tournament.

In the end, Clark was the difference in Portland advancing after winning the penalty shootout 4-2, with Portland not missing a single penalty.

Now the team looks ahead to NYCFC who they will play in the quarterfinals.

“I think having three more days to rest is important," said the Timbers head coach. "That’s something that could help them, but our group is doing very well physically. During the quarantine we worked physically a lot and I think we are going to go out there with our best 11. NYCFC is a very organized team and they play good soccer. They didn’t really score a lot of goals at the beginning and that didn’t really match the style they were playing and the end you can maybe tell they were a little lucky they qualified, but they have really good structure and a really good team. So, I know it’s going to be a very difficult match and we are going to be ready for it.”

Portland plays NYFC in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament on August 1 at 7:30 p.m. PT.

Portland Timbers advance to the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament

Portland Timbers advance to the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament

The Portland Timbers exited Group F, named the Group of Death in the MLS is Back Tournament, undefeated, and champions of the group. 

It wasn't easy, but they continued that momentum all the way to the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament, after defeating FC Cincinnati in penalties (4-2) in the Round of 16 Tuesday evening.

After dominating possession for large stretches of the game, Timbers designated player Jarek Niezgoda finished a cross from Sebastian Blanco to get Portland on the board, 1-0 in the 67th minute.

However, disaster struck when goaltender Steve Clark inexplicably gave up a penalty kick in the box after failing to safely grab the ball in the 79th minute.

FC Cincinnati would convert the opportunity into a goal in the 81st minute. 

Thankfully, a disallowed FC Cincinnati goal in the 61st made it so the penalty kick just tied the game, rather than give them the lead. 

When regulation ended, the two teams were tied at one apiece. 

Steve Clark would redeem himself in the penalty shootout, however, saving the third penality kick attempt from FC Cincinnati. The opposing team would send the next penalty kick over the net.

Then, striker Jarek Niezgoda would finish the shootout with a fourth consecutive converted kick by Portland, to advance.

Simply put, this was a game where the Timbers survived and advanced. 

The Timbers will play NYCFC in the quarterfinals on August 1st at 7:30 p.m. PT. 

Portland Timbers escape Group F undefeated, draw LAFC 2-2

Portland Timbers escape Group F undefeated, draw LAFC 2-2

Down a goal, Portland forward Jeremy Ebobisse scored for the third consecutive game by redirecting a shot into the back of the net in the 81st minute to equalize the Timbers with LAFC, 2-2.

With the draw, the Timbers will leave Group F undefeated (2-0-1 in Orlando) to set up a match with FC Cincinnati in the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back Tournament.  

Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese, with Portland having secured a spot in the knockout stage after winning their first two games, benched some of his best players against LAFC.

Diego Valeri, needing one goal to join the 80 goals, 80 assists club, replaced Andy Polo in the 68th minute while Jeremy Ebobisse did not enter the match until the 59th minute. 

Despite that, Portland did hold a lead to begin the game when Jaroslaw Niezgoda scored in the 7th minute of his first career MLS start.

The Timbers acquired Niezgoda as a Designated Player via transfer from Legia Warsaw on January 30, 2020. Heading into the evening, he had only played in two games, totaling 31 minutes, but perhaps with a start under his belt, Savarese will play him more in the knockout stage of the tournament. 

His lead would not hold, however, as the aggressive attack of the defending Supporters Shield Champions LAFC, who set an MLS record with 72 points last season, was too much for Portland to overcome in the remainder of the first half.

A rocket from Bradley Wright-Phillips and a header off a corner kick from Mark-Anthony Kaye gave LAFC a 2-1 halftime lead.

In the 78th minute, Ebobisse had a shot inside the 18 off a cross from Valeri but the potential game-tying shot was not on frame, but just three minutes later he gave his squad the equalizer.

Had LAFC maintained its halftime lead, then it would have set up a Cascadia rivalry game between Portland and the Seattle Sounders. However, with the result, LAFC will play Seattle in the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back Tournament instead.

Portland will play FC Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 28th at 7:30 p.m. PT. in the knockout stage of the MLS is Back Tournament. 

Jeremy Ebobisse has elevated his game so far in the Portland Timbers 2020 season

Jeremy Ebobisse has elevated his game so far in the Portland Timbers 2020 season

The Timbers had struggled to find a lead striker to replace Fanendo Adi since trading him to FC Cincinnati in 2017.

That transaction opened up playing time for Jeremy Ebobisse who, after starting off the MLS is Back Tournament on fire, now appears poised to lead the Timbers offensive attack for the foreseeable future.

So far, Ebobisse has scored in both of Portland's games in the group stage, each goal fueling victories for the boys in green, including a gorgeous strike against Houston. 

"The goal today was a different level," said Diego Valeri after the 2-1 win against the Dynamo. 

Ebobisse's improvement has earned him more playing time with him starting as the team's lead striker so far in the tournament. 

"He’s earned it," said head coach Giovanni Savarese. "He has earned, he has worked hard, he has shown development every single year. In 2018 when he came in against Colorado, he showed that he wanted to be in Portland. I think that in the finals we spoke and there were things that maybe he could have shown a little bit more, so he showed still that he needed to mature."

In 2019, Ebobisse showed the Timbers what they needed to see to commit to him long term. He started in 25 games, played in 34, and scored 11 goals which lead the team, tied with Brian Fernandez who got cut by the Timbers due to “failure to comply with the league's substance abuse and behavioral health (SABH) program.”

Now in 2020, Ebobisse has made an even greater impact on the pitch. 

"Last year, a tremendous season. A player that played basically every single game. This year, he started with an even higher level, so the competition up top is difficult for me because I think everybody is fighting to be able to play. [Ebobisse] has deserved it and another good goal today that was important for us."

Savarese wasn't the only one to notice the striker's improvement. Diego Valeri echoed his coach's praise. 

“It's always nice to see Jebo play there, actually sometimes he played really hard against the two central backs alone, and allowed us to be more in the middle, and he holds that position. So it's been amazing in this tournament," said Valeri. "I'm very happy about the striker scoring goals... I'm very happy about his improvement, he's a very mature guy and I'm sure that he is going to give us a lot of happiness to our team.”

It's been a gradual rise for Ebobisse, who was drafted fourth overall in the 2017 Supplemental MLS Draft by Portland, but he did see significant minutes earlier than expected after Adi suffered a season-ending injury, causing Ebobisee to start for the top-seeded Timbers in the MLS Playoffs.

However, the offensive attack struggled against the Dynamo in the Western Conference Semifinals, failing to get a goal in Houston and losing the game in Rose City, 2-1. 

In 2018, under new head coach Savarese, Ebobisse began to increase his role on the team scoring five goals in nine appearances for the club during the regular season, and starting all six postseason games, scoring once, before Portland would lose to Atlanta 2-0 in the 2018 MLS Cup. 

In his third season as a Timber, Ebobisee would break out with eleven goals paving the way for him to take hold of the starting striker duties heading into 2020, which the 23-year old has done. 

Ebobisse has stayed focused on the task at hand as well: the next opponent and winning the MLS is Back Tournament.

"It's been acknowledged that we didn't have a perfect start to the season, with one win and one loss and maybe not playing as well as we could have," said Ebobisse. "But this past quarantine break everyone's been real serious, and we've regrouped and I think that that's shown in the first two games. Obviously, we still have a challenging game against LAFC, and who knows how we're going to approach it and, you know, whoever whatever plays. We need to make sure we get three points again to keep that momentum going into the knockout rounds because we want to make a good run.”

Portland Timbers clinch knockout spot in win over Dynamo

Portland Timbers clinch knockout spot in win over Dynamo

On the heels of the Portland Thorns clinching their spot into the semifinals of the NWSL Cup Challenge, the Portland Timbers followed in their footsteps with a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo Saturday. 

The Timbers are winners in back to back games after beating the LA Galaxy on Monday in the MLS is Back tournament. 

“It feels calm and it feels good to win these two matches,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. “It put us in a situation where we qualified, so that was something we were looking to do as our first goal in this tournament.”

Jeremy Ebobisse and Diego Valeri scored for Portland to give them the edge over Houston.

Here’s how it all went down. 

With the win, the Timbers are at the top of Group F in the MLS is Back tournament. They will finish in at least the top two of there group and are guaranteed a spot in the round of 16. 

The MLS is Back tournament began on July 8 with games being played in Orlando, FL and will conclude in August. 

“In this past quarantine break, everyone’s been real serious,” Ebobisse, who scored in the 35th minute said. “We’ve regrouped and I think it’s shown in the past two games. We still have a challenging game against LAFC and, however we approach it, we need to make sure we get three points again so we have momentum going into the knockout round.”

The Timbers face LAFC at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2.

Portland Timbers earn three points in debut of the MLS restart

Portland Timbers earn three points in debut of the MLS restart

That's one way to re-start the season.

The Portland Timbers got the new season off on the right foot Monday evening defeating the LA Galaxy 2-1 in their debut game of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida.

While Portland left the pitch with a well-deserved and earned three points, it didn't always look like they were in control.

The first and largest scare of the night happened in the 11th minute when Timbers defender Dario Zuparic got a yellow card inside his own box, rewarding the Galaxy with a penalty kick.

But then, goalkeeper Steve Clark made absolutely remarkable saves on both the penalty kick and the rebound to keep the ball out of the net.

The stops were crucial in keeping the Timbers even going into the half, 0-0.

Then, in the second half, Portland found its offensive groove scoring in both the 59th and 66th minute. Both thanks to striker Sebastian Blanco who got an assist and goal in a seven-minute span of the match.

The first goal, Blanco found the Timbers leading scorer from 2019, Jeremy Ebobisse in front of the goal who finished the job.

Then, Blanco decided he'd do the second one himself. 

In classic Portland Timbers fashion, however, that was not the end of the story. Zuparic would receive a second yellow in the 75th minute causing Portland to play the remaining 15+ minutes with only ten men. 

In that time, the Galaxy put the ball in the net three times, but were called offsides twice, preserving the Timbers lead.

By the time the referee called for the game to be complete, the Timbers had earned three points. 

With the win, Portland was the only team to win its debut game in Group F of the MLS is Back Tournament, therefore they sit at the top of the standings. Their next match will be against the Houston Dynamo, who sits at one point, at 5:00 p.m. PT on Saturday, July 18.