Giovanni Savarese celebrates Portland’s 11th-hour win. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
In many ways, the Portland Timbers’ dramatic 11th-hour playoff win over the host Colorado Rapids was a Pyrrhic victory for the club on Thursday.
The team lost Sebastian Blanco early in the second half of the Western Conference semifinal encounter of the MLS Cup Playoffs and then saw Dairon Asprilla red-carded in stoppage time at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
Still, head coach Giovanni Savarese was in a thankful mood in the first Major League Soccer match played on Thanksgiving. He was thankful for the win, especially after the favored Rapids outplayed his team in the first half before Larry Mabiala’s 90th-minute goal settled matters.
“A lot to give thanks to, the result and all that,” the former Cosmos head coach said. “But one of the things that we said is for all the family, all of the fans, all of our friends that stayed home and in that we didn’t have the chance to be with them. Let’s give them some happiness. Let’s give them let’s [represent] them in the best possible way by winning and working hard. I think the guys were able to achieve that. So we’re very happy and content to what we achieved today.
The Timbers will meet the winner of Sunday’s Sporting Kansas City-Real Salt Lake semifinal encounter the weekend of Dec. 4-5. If SKC wins, it will host the match. If RSL prevails, then Portland will welcome that side to Providence Park.
Regardless where Portland plays, Savarese will have to replace two key members of his team.
Blanco tried to run onto a pass but collapsed to the ground while he grabbed the back of his heavily taped left leg. The hero of Portland’s 3-1 quarterfinal win over Minnesota United immediately signaled for a substitution as Santiago Moreno replaced the influential midfielder in the 52nd minute. Blanco walked off the field in tears.
Losing someone like Blanco would be a giant loss, but Savarese felt the team has been all about the next man up.
“We feel strong,” he said. “We feel that we have everyone on the same page. We feel that everyone wants to contribute and everybody’s going put a hard fight to make sure that we can continue to be competitive. Seba is Seba. He is a DP. He is a very important player. We’ve seen what he’s capable of doing and we want to have him on the field. He makes us a better team.
“The reality is that this group has shown through the entire season that we have never given up that we’re going to work hard. We are always in the belief that anybody is going to step up to make sure that we can achieve things as a group because ultimately, our strength is more than player. Our strength is the group. We always have said that, and the group understands that very, very well. We have players that can make the difference, but the group is the most important part.”
Four minutes into second-half stoppage time, Asprilla was red carded for violent conduct.
Savarese said that he will look at the video of the infraction and that the Timbers would appeal. He wouldn’t comment on with whom he would replace Asprilla.
“I’m not thinking right now about who’s going to play for Dairon or replace Dairon because I believe first we have to look at the clip,” he said. “We will appeal and then we hope that he can play. Then we’ll figure things out. But as of now, we still are going to put a strong case that we hope that he can be available for the next match.”