Timbers loss ends season, but stronger team has emerged

Last year, the Portland Timbers were one of the worst sides in Major League Soccer.

When their season ended Sunday night, the Timbers were one of the best.

And while there was pain and suffering on the faces of the players after their 5-2 aggregate loss to Real Salt Lake on Sunday, no one could deny how much the side had accomplished in reach the Western Conference finals.

“If you imagine that the Timbers have been in the MLS for three years, it’s a huge step,” Timbers defender Pa Modou Kah said. “It’s really incredible. It’s sad (the season ended). But we’ve still got to hold our heads up high because of what an amazing season we had.”

Midfielder Will Johnson said: “You go farther than the club has ever gone before, that’s a positive.”

Last season, the Timbers were 8-16-10 (34 points) and were 17th out of 19 clubs. Portland scored just 34 goals and allowed 56.

This season, the Timbers went 14-5-15 (57 points), the third-best record in the league and the best in the West. Portland almost reversed its goal totals, scoring 54 and allowing 33.

“It’s remarkable what these players did,” coach Caleb Porter said. “We finished in the top three in goals scored, top three in goals against. We finished in the top four in the Open Cup and the top four in the MLS Cup.”

It was a turnaround few saw coming.

“Ten months ago, we started with a new coach and half the guys in this locker room were new,” defender Jack Jewsbury said. “You don’t know what to expect. But you could see early on that there were the makings of something special.”

The Timbers beat Seattle 5-3 in the playoffs.

“You can’t ask for anything more than putting yourself in a position to be able to win the MLS Cup,” Portland defender Michael Harrington said.

In the conference finals, however, the Timbers never matched up well physically with Real Salt Lake. RSL also outclassed the Timbers in experience.

“This is our first time we’ve been in this position, and there’s a reason that a team like Real Salt Lake went on to win this series,” Porter said. “You see teams like Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, Houston and the L.A. Galaxy, and there’s a reason they continue to be in this position. But we didn’t look out of place.”

Porter said the experience will make Portland better. He said he does not think many changes are needed.

“If we took the same team, we’d be in the same position (next year),” he said. “This series could’ve gone differently. Certainly there’s some things we’ll do to try to enhance the group. The best thing you can do is just keep a lot of the same pieces. Keep that continuity. You see that in winning teams.

"There’s a formula to follow. This is what we will do as well. We don’t need to get a ton better. Just through experience, we’ll be better next season.”

Porter said he sees the Timbers winning a trophy soon.

“This team has set a standard in a short amount of time, and it’s only a beginning,” he said. “We’re going to be back. We’re going to keep getting better.

"Our goal is to raise trophies. First and foremost. This was a great year. But, in the end, we didn’t raise a trophy. We’re going to keep pushing for that.”

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