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Portland Timbers proud of postseason fight despite falling short in MLS Cup

Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) collides with Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron (10) in the first half in the 2018 MLS Cup championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — When the Portland Timbers went to the locker room for halftime of MLS Cup, they carried a sense of belief that the magic from their previous postseason triumphs would provide another set of memorable moments.

“The message was to keep doing what we’re doing and that we’ve been there before,” Timbers right back Zarek Valentin said. “Look at the Seattle game. Look at the Kansas City game. We were down goals in that game and came back and got results.

“If you watch the first X amount of minutes, I can’t give you the exact number, we played them off the field the first little bit,”

Unfortunately for Giovanni Savarese’s side, Atlanta United pocketed the second tally of the contest and ended up winning 2-0. 

“I thought we were going to get a goal,” Valentin said. “I think the whole stadium thought we were going to get a goal. It’s football, so these things can change quickly.” 

Despite falling short of the ultimate goal, the Timbers carried themselves with pride because of what they accomplished on their path to the championship match. 

The Timbers didn’t win a game until April 14, and then they went on a 15-game unbeaten run to get into the postseason mix. 

A four-game losing streak followed the unbeaten stretch before the Timbers rallied to qualify for the playoffs and knock off FC Dallas, the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference playoffs. 

“It was a roller coaster ride,” Ridgewell said. “It was an interesting start being away for so long, the middle part of the year having an unbeaten run, then struggling a little bit and then obviously having a good run toward the end of the season.”

“Every year in the MLS, it’s the end that matters. We had a good run at the end. It was just one step too far tonight.” 

Said Valentin: “It’s definitely going to take time. Losing sucks. Losing in a final sucks. It sucks losing when I thought we had a lot of the better play. It’s really bittersweet. We battled our butts off this entire postseason.

“I don’t think people gave us enough credit for playing on a short week in Seattle after we played a knockout game. People not wiping out yellow cards after the first round is difficult for guys that go all of the postseason. Battling back from being down in Kansas City and Seattle, this group is unbelievable. I’m honored to be on the field with these guys and everyone laid their heart and soul out there. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way.” 

The togetherness of the group is what the Timbers players took the most out the season, especially when the season mattered the most. 

“A lot of talkers talked about Atlanta and there are no stars on Portland Timbers,” Ridgewell said. “We’re just an average team going on an average season. We just work together and play together.” 

And even though they were fresh off a heartbreaking defeat, the Timbers were more than confident in challenging Atlanta with the same 11 players if a replay of MLS Cup occurred. 

“I remember that when moments did not go our way, that’s what made us closest,” Valentin said. “When we were down goals, when we were down at halftime, when we lost six straight, when people were out injured, that brought us closer.”

“This is a hell of a group, hell of a locker room. We battled through adversity. With different bounces, look at the Martinez goal, if we go in at halftime 0-0, who knows? We’re not down a goal, and even through this game when the adversity came, we kept battling.

“Kudos to the guys for always having each other’s back and wanting to push forward again. I love my teammates. I can’t stress that enough and I wouldn’t trade this for the world. If we had to play a game right now, I’d still take our guys versus theirs. I would not trade one player.” 

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