Portland Timbers not focused on past playoff triumph against Sporting KC

BEAVERTON, Ore. – The last time the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City shared a soccer pitch, the Timbers escaped with one of the most memorable and unlikely MLS Cup playoff wins in Major League Soccer history. Dramatic late goals from each team and an 11-round penalty-kick shootout mean the Oct. 29 match will live long in the memory of participants and fans.

That kind of experience can add juice to future meetings, like the one that happens on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park (2 pm ET, FOX in US, MLS LIVE in Canada). For Portland players and coaches, it appears to be just another game.

“I never believe that the past plays into the present at all,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “Ultimately it comes down to 90 minutes, it comes down to this game, it comes down to executing, it comes down to little moments. This will be no different.”

Porter, though, acknowledged that his Sporting KC counterpart Peter Vermes might bring up the playoff game, which was punctuated by Sporting defender Saad Abdul-Salaam’s penalty kick bouncing off both posts and away from goal.

“As a coach you always use things from the past to kind of motivate,” Porter said. “But I don’t think they’ll be talking about that too much, or thinking about it. Last year’s last year. They have a lot of new players. We have a lot of new players.”

In fact, six of the 11 Timbers who took penalty kicks that night have departed, and only three of them – Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Jack Jewsbury – are available to play on Sunday. 

Still, a match like that playoff battle is bound to stir some lingering emotion. And in nine matches between the clubs, only once has the game been decided by more than a single goal.

But is this a rivalry? Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson – who joked that watching the shootout from the bench aged him about 10 years – said the fact that the Timbers and Sporting are again neighbors near the red line in the Western Conference standings carries more significance than last season’s outcome.

Porter agrees that the competitiveness in the Western Conference, rather than any single match, contributes to the intensity between clubs.

“I think over time you can go back in time and find some reason to not like any team, and for them to not like you, whether it’s a league game or a playoff game,” Porter said.

Valeri says the spirited competition between Portland and SKC is a reflection of the quality of the clubs.

“It is a good match-up. I think KC for me is one of the best teams in MLS,” Valeri said. “Maybe you don’t have big names like other teams in MLS, but [Kansas City] is one of the strongest teams in the league. We are both [among] the strongest teams in the league.”

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