New York City FC will hope their dramatic reversal in form continues on Saturday when they meet a Portland Timbers squad that has ridden its own run of luck lately in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
Under new head coach Ronny Deila, NYCFC had lost five consecutive matches in all competitions dating back to early March entering their group play finale against Inter Miami CF.
But NYCFC snuck into the Round of 16 as one of four wild-card teams after defeating Miami 1-0 to finish third in their group. From there, they comprehensively disposed of Toronto FC, thanks partly to the return of Maxi Moralez from a calf injury. The Argentine had a goal and an assist in the 3-1 win.
Moralez remains a question mark with recurring tightness in his calf, Deila said. But the Norwegian coach, who took over after Domenec Torrent led NYCFC to the Eastern Conference regular season title a season ago, said he's seen progress in the transition period even before that victory.
"I see changes in a lot of things but culture takes time," Deila said. "And also when everybody is new to each other, then we take time to get to know each other. Having said that, it's not that black and white like you journalists often (see)."
Meanwhile, Portland may feel like it has a second life after escaping a penalty shootout against FC Cincinnati following a 1-1 draw in their Round of 16 encounter.
Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark's blunder, in which he gave the ball away in the penalty area and then fouled Allan Cruz, led to Jurgen Locadia's game-tying penalty late in the second half.
Locadia then missed a chance in regulation to seal victory for Cincinnati, and Clark responded in the tiebreaker by saving Locadia's second penalty before Kendall Waston also missed to help Cincy advance.
With another keeper, the whole episode might inspire a crisis in confidence. Not so with Clark, however, says Portland coach Giovanni Savarese.
"I'm a firm believer that the most important part is always how people respond to situations that are difficult," Savarese said. "Clark is one that bounces (back) right away. When we went to PKs, he told me, 'I got it, don't worry.'"
--Field Level Media