A few local reporters had a chance to speak with Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter on a conference call Thursday to preview their Western Conference semifinal series against the Sounders.
Here is a transcript:
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(Will you take any time to think about what this matchup means on the big picture for the league and American soccer, or will you be pretty dialed in to getting ready for the Sounders?) “I won’t take too much time thinking about all the peripheral stuff. I really try to stay, from game to game, absorbed on what I need to do to prepare my team to win the game. Those other things are nice. I do think it’s great for the league to have a Sounders-Timbers matchup. I do think it’s going to be hopefully an epic series, one that people will talk about. Obviously it’s the first time we’ve had this series in the MLS era, but it’s the fourth time, I believe, in the history of the two clubs, so there is a bit of history there, which is great for the fans and the supporters. So again, the players, myself, we won’t be thinking too much about all those things, but I do think it’s great for the league and, like I said, it adds a little buzz to the match.”
(Does it seem like the Sounders are a different team since your last meeting three weeks ago?) “Well, they’ve made some changes. They’ve adjusted some of their tactics. They’re playing out of a different system. I think they feel like that’s unlocked them a little bit. I think they feel they needed to do something to put their group together in a way where they could perform better, and I think they have. Obviously the last game they won, their first win in seven, so they have to feel good about that. I think to some extent it highlights some of their key pieces a bit more. Dempsey has kind of a free role underneath the two strikers and there’s a lot of freedom in their two strikers, Johnson and Neagle, and then Dempsey. Those three guys, in particular, have a lot of freedom to create. And listen, they’ve got talent. Setting their team up that way, it allows some of their special attacking players perhaps a bit more freedom. I think their structure is different with how they’re playing, so those are things that we’ll adjust and are well aware of. Obviously I went to the game, watched it live, and I thought it was a typical first playoff game, a little choppy. Neither team, I thought, had a ton of flow. The first half was Seattle. I thought the second half Colorado came to life a bit. In the end, I thought the difference was Seattle’s talented players. Brad Evans pops up and scores a great goal on an overlap by Gonzalez. And then Eddie Johnson, obviously at the end, jumps a couple defenders and has a great finish. So for me, that was the biggest difference on the day.”
(There were four goals total in your three games against the Sounders this season. Do you think goals will stay hard to come by in this series?) “Well, it’s hard to predict football. You never know how it’s going to go. But I would say that’s probably pretty similar to how this series is going to go. Like I said, especially in that second leg, you never know when teams start having to chase the game. You’ve seen in some of these second legs, they get a little bit more open, because teams are out if they don’t score goals. I’m not sure how this one is going to go … but if we’re looking at the past, we played them three times, twice on the road, once at home. We both got four points, obviously they had two games, but they got a win, we got a win and there was a draw. In all those games, it was 1-0 for us, 1-0 for them and a 1-1 draw where we took a point off them on the road. I think that’s what happens oftentimes in games where you have two good teams. And yeah, the game could open up, and if it does, both teams have talented players that can obviously score goals. With Seattle, I think the biggest thing for us is we have to manage their talent. They’re a very talented team. They have great players. A lot of respect for the club, what they’ve done, their coach, their players — obviously this is the fifth time they’ve been in the playoffs and this is our first time. Last year, they were able to get to the conference championship for the first time. Listen, they just got a win, so I think they’ll probably relax a little bit and have a bit more confidence than they’ve had in the last several games. They’re back at home. I’m sure they’re coming into this game not happy that we got a result against them in the last game when we played them. So I think it’s going to make for a great series. Like I said, I think it’s going to be one that people are talking about for a long time. Obviously I hope our supporters are talking about it even longer because we’ve come out on the winning end. But we know we have to play well, like we’ve had to do all season long against good teams. You don’t win unless you play well, and it’s going to be no different in this game. At the same time, I don’t think we have to have a miracle game to get through this series. You have two good teams and they’re more experienced obviously based on the past, they’ve done more, but if you’re looking at 2013, we’ve had a very good year. That’s what we’re focused on now. Our group knows that if we play well, that we can beat anyone, home or away.”
(How much do you think your first time in the playoffs will factor in compared to Seattle’s postseason experience?) “I don’t think so, because it’s still a soccer game. A soccer game is a soccer game. You’ve got fans in the stands, you’ve got 22 guys, you’ve got one ball, you’ve got three referees, and it’s business as usual. Obviously the format is different with the two-leg series. That does play into it. You can’t just be locked on to the one game. You’ve got to understand how to approach the two together. Even though collectively this team and this club haven’t been in the playoffs, we have a lot of players who have been in the playoffs. I counted like seven or eight total if you look at MLS guys who have been in playoffs and other guys from overseas who have played for league championships and cup tournaments. So collectively, again, we haven’t been in this position, but we have a lot of seasoned guys that have been in this position individually, so I think that does help us. The other things that helps us is, again, after the stretch run we’ve had, we’ve played L.A., we’ve played Salt Lake, we’ve played Seattle, we’ve played Colorado. The other teams that were in the playoffs, we’ve played all those teams recently, so I think we’re really ready for that level and we’ve kind of geared up for the playoffs, even before we’ve obviously been in the playoffs. I think our mentality, our mindset, our organization, our game-planning and our preparation has put us in a position where we’ll approach it businesslike, but I think, again, because we’re playing for a cup, and obviously we’re playing a rival, there will be a bit more buzz to it, which is great. I think that’ll help, not hurt. It can never hurt when you have things on the line. Our guys have played in Seattle twice. Last game we were there, there were almost 70,000 fans. We’ve been in that situation. We got a point on the road the first time we played them, with a big crowd. We’ve played on the turf. There is really nothing new other than what’s at stage, and then obviously the two-leg format. Other than that, it’s a soccer game, and that’s the way we’re going to approach. We’re going to be aware of what’s at stake, but we’re going to be focused on what we need to do to win the game when the whistle blows.”
(Do you have any feelings regarding the home-and-away series and which game, first or second, is better to have at home?) “I don’t debate things that you can’t change. Maybe after the season, if there’s a debate, I’ll certainly weigh in on it, but right now it is what it is. I don’t like to waste time and energy on things that you can’t change. All I’ve been focused on is preparing my team. Now that I know that we have an opponent, we’ve started to really dig into our tactics and game planning in these last several days of preparation. Obviously in the week we prepared for what we’re going to do mostly and started to talk about Colorado and Seattle, but to be honest with you, we prepared for Seattle, because we knew they would most likely win and we expected this result. Our guys are up for it and ready for it and excited about it.”