When group play had concluded Wednesday night three Major League Soccer teams had survived and advanced to the final eight of the CONCACAF Champions League, or CCL, with the Portland failing to make it four as the Timbers settled for a 1-1 home draw against Saprissa to miss out.
With MLS Decision Day coming up on Sunday the CCL, an acronym that begins with an acronym, could hardly have come at a worse time for Major League Soccer’s representatives. FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja selected a reserve heavy side and was rewarded with a 5-2 victory over Guatemalan side Suchitepequez despite saving most of his regulars for Sunday and the Supporters Shield chase.
With qualification for the MLS playoffs hanging in the balance for both of their teams, it was no surprise that Pareja’s coaching colleagues Caleb Porter (Portland Timbers) and Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City) followed the FC supremo’s lead.
Sporting was already eliminated from further CCL involvement, so the choice to rest his first teamers was no choice at all for Vermes and his backups did the job with a 3-1 win in front of an announced crowd of over 11,000 at Children’s Mercy Park Wednesday night.
Knowing that only win would send Portland through to the knockout rounds Porter had more to consider but with missing the playoffs a real possibility for the 2015 MLS Cup champions the coach had no choice but to prioritize Sunday’s trip to Vancouver.
Speaking at his post game press conference Porter expressed genuine frustration at the result, telling the assembled media “these guys (his team) wanted to win this game and I wanted to win this game.” “Badly,” Porter underlined. “I feel bad” the coach went on, “because I know that our supporters wanted to win this game badly. This is part of this job and a part of this business and sometimes you don’t get a result. But if it doesn’t hurt then you don’t care.”
The Portland coach’s sentiments concerning the Timbers fans were borne out by an announced attendance of 16,977 at Providence Park but the coach is confident that his team will put this set back behind it Sunday’s regular-season finale.” “You have to move on,” Porter said. “We will move on. We will move on from it and we are still looking forward to being in the playoffs, but I can’t think about that right now. I can’t think about that right now because I am just very disappointed in this game.”
The three advancing MLS clubs will continue to chase regional club glory in home and away matches scheduled for February 28 and March 2, with the higher seeded club hosting the second match in each series. Three of the remaining quarterfinal sides are from Mexico’s Liga MX, Pachuca, Pumas UNAM, and Tigres UANL. Árabe Unido hails from Panama and Saprissa from Costa Rica.
Below are the matchup with the seedings.
#1 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #8 New York Red Bulls
#2 Arabe Unido vs. #7 FC Dallas
#3 Pachuca vs. #6 Deportivo Saprissa
#4 Pumas UNAM vs. #5 Tigres UANL