I hate elimination games. Hate them. The level of stress and tension they bring is unbelievable, and the prospect of this game going to extra time and penalties was utterly terrifying before the match kicked off. Then the Timbers scored and took that option off the table, and for four brief, glorious minutes, the dread subsided. Then, the Portland Timbers did what they do and switched off defensively, their poor marking on a free kick allowing Dylan Remick to get into perfect position to smash a ball past a helpless, out of position Jeff Attinella.
Oh look! There's that dread again! Only now it's multiplied because the Timbers had to both score and prevent Houston from scoring again. If 2017 taught me anything, it's that the Timbers struggled to do both at the same time, and Sunday was no exception - the 1-1 was enough to get Houston through, but Mauro Manotas sealed the deal in the 78th minute, sending the Timbers home and advancing the Dynamo to the Western Conference finals, where they'll face the current MLS Cup holders Seattle.
What do the Timbers do this winter? That's for another post. For now, let's focus on this game.
Early urgency. The Timbers started this game like they knew they had to score early and often. They didn't, only getting the one goal, but at least for most of the first half, the Timbers looked up for the challenge, even as a patchwork side of subs and out of position players.
Dairon Asprilla. He scored the goal, of course, but mostly he looked to be singlehandedly trying to make up for the loss of Diego Chará and the early exit of Darren Mattocks, who had to leave the game in the 14th minute due to a concussion that was, for once, wisely handled by the team. Mattocks wasn't given the rest of the half to "shake it off", he was immediately subbed for Jeremy Ebobisse, and Asprilla took it upon himself to make sure that Mattocks' absence wasn't devastating. Nothing came of it outside the goal, but on a frustrating night, Asprilla at least did not allow himself to be too rattled.
Early exit. I mean, it's obvious what's most bad - the loss means the Timbers are out of the playoffs.
Depth. While it's true that "depth" generally connotes a talent dropoff, and while it's also true that the Timbers, who used their fifth-choice defensive midfielder on Sunday, had to use depth as starters a lot more than they would have liked, the Timbers have a problem. That problem? The dropoff in talent between their starting XI and their bench. It's very, very large. And while that's fine for the occasional spot start, it's not sustainable when a team has to rely on that depth for a series of games or a big chunk of the season, as Portland did this year.
Part of the Timbers Army. After Mauro Manotas scored to give Houston the lead and essentially hand the tie to Houston, he did what athletes do and ran over to the opposing fanbase - in this case, the TA - and cup his hands to his ears in mockery. In response, certain members of TA rained beer cups and debris down on him. I think we all expect better from TA, and while the TA quickly identified the culprit and (hopefully) identified them to the front office, this sort of thing is embarrassing for the team, town, and TA, and it will hopefully never happen again.