It’s “must-win” for Portland, but Saprissa stands in way

Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (green jersey) tries to shoot past a Saprissa defender during their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League match on September 14, 2016, in Tibas, San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo: Mexsport)


PORTLAND, Oregon -- The Portland Timbers enter the final week of two competitions facing a pair of “do-for-die” situations within five days. 

First, the host Timbers (2W-0D-1L, 6 points) will have to defeat first-place Saprissa (2W-1D-0L, 7) in the Group B finale on Wednesday night in order to reach the 2016/17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Then they must beat the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday -- and get help from some rivals -- to book a spot in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

Portland head coach Caleb Porter realizes the importance and significance of his team advancing past the SCCL group stage for the first time. In the 2014/15 edition, the Timbers finished level on points with Honduras’ Olimpia atop the Group 5 table, but fell short on head-to-head away goals (2-1).

"It will arguably be the most important game in club history," said Porter, a former United States under-23 national team manager. "It would give us the chance to make history."

The Timbers, however, will be without two key players and perhaps more. Forward Fanendo Adi, who has a team-best 16 goals in MLS, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while Ben Zemanski is sidelined with a collapsed young. Diego Valeri (hamstring injury) and Jack Jewsbury (hip flexor) are questionable. 

"We will put out the strongest lineup that we have healthy and available to win the game," Porter stressed.

Portland fell 4-2 at Saprissa in the first meeting on September 14, so the Timbers are fully cognizant of the Costa Rican power’s offensive prowess.

"They're a very good side," said midfielder Ned Grabovoy. "They are very aggressive, very technical players that like to move the ball, combination play, get their outside backs really high into the pitch. We have to make sure we're honest on both sides of the ball, get numbers in behind the ball when they do try to create chances and try to get on the front foot. Make their night very, very tough."

The Timbers have it tough enough. They have no room for error.

"We know a draw does nothing for us, a loss does nothing for us," Porter concluded. "We have to win. I like that mindset because the guys know we have to win and we are at home and we're going to play aggressive."