Timbers Playoff Push May Stall in Vancouver

Whitecaps up by 2 points in standings, so a win or draw is vital for Portland
by Ray Marcham   |   Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The Portland Timbers have nine games left in the MLS regular season.

Eight of those might not matter if they don’t get at least a point in Vancouver on Saturday.

The roller coaster that has been the Timbers’ 2014 season is likely on the line on the turf at BC Place. A win puts them into a playoff spot. A draw keeps the status quo. A loss makes the playoffs a nearly-impossible task.

The Whitecaps, up on the Timbers by 2 points in the standings and with a game in hand, can all but put Portland away for an MLS playoff spot if they get all 3 points. Trailing by 5 points with 8 to play might be too much for Portland to overcome, if they lose on Saturday. So the match truly is an important 6-pointer.

That the Timbers are in this situation is mostly their own fault. The inability to get any more than a point in New England on August 16, followed by the debacle that was the 4-2 loss to Seattle on August 24, has hurt them greatly in their pursuit of that final Western Conference postseason spot.

It’s not like the Whitecaps have been getting results. Vancouver has one win in their last 7 matches, along with 5 draws. While any hopes for 4th place have pretty much gone away with the LA Galaxy’s run of 6 wins in their last 9 matches, they still have a grip on 5th despite their troubles getting a win.

Both the Timbers and Whitecaps have been helped greatly by the collapse of the Colorado Rapids, who have lost 5 in a row and 6 of their last 7. The Rapids now trail both Vancouver and Portland in the standings, and play Seattle and Los Angeles next. While they are still close to the Whitecaps and Timbers, they may continue to become a non-factor unless they turn things around, and quickly.

San Jose and Chivas USA may be too far back to challenge Portland and Vancouver for a playoff spot, even with their games in hand.

Which means the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot, at this point, is a two-horse race between Vancouver and Portland. This makes the stakes on Saturday that much greater for Portland.

A win puts the Timbers in a playoff spot for the first time in a long while. The horrific spring that Portland had put them behind the rest of the West from the start, and it’s been a long, slow, steady trek back up to put the club back in the playoff hunt.

Portland had been getting results. They won 3 of the 4 matches before going to New England, and there was a confidence that the Timbers could, or maybe should, get 3 points in Foxborough. But they only got 1 point, and gained no ground on Vancouver.

The offense went away in New England, with Liam Ridgewell scoring the only goal (one Portland score was called back for an offside call) in that 1-1 draw. Then the defensive issues came back at the worst time, allowing Seattle to score 4 while wasting chances in the first half during that 4-2 loss. While Fanendo Adi scored twice after coming on as a sub, those goals didn’t make much of a difference.

That Seattle loss again cost the Timbers a chance to gain on the Whitecaps, who had lost to the Galaxy on the previous night. As the opportunities will lessen as the games dwindle away, Portland must take advantage.

The two teams actually meet again in three weeks, as Vancouver visits Portland on September 20. That match will be between the Timbers’ two CONCACAF Champions League home games, and part of a stretch of 5 games in 15 days for Portland. That will stretch the depth of the Timbers, already tested a bit by the CCL trip to Guyana between the game at New England and the home match with Seattle.

One thing that the Timbers don’t have to worry about is the Cascadia Cup. Sunday’s loss to Seattle eliminated Portland from regaining the Cup, but their 2 remaining games with Vancouver could help determine if the Whitecaps keep the Cup or if the Sounders win it for the first time since 2011.

Saturday is the big one, for now. A win, and suddenly Portland is above the red line in the MLS standings. A loss, and Vancouver starts to pull away. A draw, and maybe Colorado feels like they still have hope.

But, as with any Cascadia match, anything can happen.

NEXT UP: August 30 – Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, BC Place, Vancouver, BC. 10:30 p.m. EST, KPDX, MLS Live.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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