Seven Matches Left For Portland to Prove Playoff Ability

Trip to Colorado begins the final postseason push for the Timbers
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, September 12, 2014

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

Seven matches. That’s all that remains on the Major League Soccer schedule for the Portland Timbers.

Seven matches for the club to try and find that right defensive combination that’s finally going to be consistent. Seven matches for the club to try and figure out how to convert more chances into goals.

Seven matches for the Timbers to try and get a playoff spot that seemed out of reach in July. Seven matches to finish above the red line, and get a reward for a season that feels like isn’t deserving of one.

In a real sense, there’s no way the Timbers should be in this position, no way they should even be in the playoff hunt. But the collapse of the Colorado Rapids has helped Portland get back into the race, and what a collapse it has been.

Portland plays at Colorado on Saturday, and it’s a fascinating time for the two teams to meet. The Timbers have a chance to extend the Rapids’ losing streak to eight games and kill whatever playoff hopes they have left.

But maybe Portland should’ve done that already. The 3-3 draw with San Jose on Sunday, where the Timbers had 32 shots, 16 corner kicks and 13 shots on goal, was a match that Portland maybe should have won with ease. But they had to come back from 2-0 and 3-2 down to salvage a point.

This, after seeing the Rapids get demolished on the road 6-0 by the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps play out a dour draw with DC United at BC Place. Instead of putting distance between themselves and the Whitecaps, the Timbers stayed just ahead of Vancouver as the weekend wrapped up. The previous weekend’s 3-0 win at BC Place quickly became a memory.

Fans were reminded that there’s only so much Liam Ridgewell can do in the back, that he can’t cover everyone at once. They were reminded that there’s only so much that Diego Valeri can do, because no matter how many great passes he places, players at the receiving end of those passes have to convert and score.

The opportunity that the Timbers had, to put some distance between themselves and Vancouver and make Colorado’s slim playoff hopes even slimmer, was wasted. Fans left Providence Park frustrated, as they have so many times in 2014. Even club owner Merritt Paulson tweeted his frustration and anger during the match (and even left a few undeleted).

There are seven matches left, starting with the trip to Colorado on Saturday. Seven matches to see if Portland can return to the playoffs or if they will be done at the end of October. The Timbers have their destiny in their hands, thanks to the September 20 match against the Whitecaps in Providence Park. If they win the next two matches, Portland will be in the driver’s seat for the last playoff spot in the West. But if not, then it could be a struggle.

Of course, there’s one other w inkle in all of this, and that’s the CONCACAF Champions League. Olimpia visits Providence Park on Tuesday, and the Timbers need to win to ensure that the return trip to Honduras in October won’t be as vital to advance out of Group 5 as it could be with a draw. A loss, and it becomes a much tougher task.

That could mean the lineup that sees the field in Colorado on Saturday may be considerably different than the one that sees action against Olimpia on Tuesday. But with Alpha United visiting Portland on September 23, Caleb Porter might also decide to use that week to rest his regulars, with three important matches in the span of eight days coming up.

The rest of the MLS schedule after Vancouver is not easy. There’s a trip to Toronto, who are in a desperate playoff push themselves. There’s a home-and-home with San Jose, likely to lead to plenty of frustration and cards of various colors. The home finale will be against Real Salt Lake, who either will be locked into third in the West or battling Seattle and/or Los Angeles for a top two spot.

Then there’s the season closer at FC Dallas on October 25, who currently sit in fourth place. The scenario that Portland would need to win at FCD to make the playoffs and play in Frisco again a few days later in the 4/5 matchup is not that farfetched. The Timbers will be flying into Dallas from Honduras, where they will have finished up the group stage of the CCL, and that means a possibly tired squad. But if there’s a playoff spot at stake, then it won’t matter.

Every game grows in importance depending on how the Timbers do the previous week. How vital that FC Dallas match becomes, how much the seventh match left on the schedule matters, depends on what happens between now and then, starting Saturday in Colorado.

Seven matches remain. Seven matches to see if the defense can play better. Seven matches to see if chances become needed goals. Seven matches for players to show they belong in the postseason, and to show they belong on the team. Seven matches for the Portland Timbers to somehow make the playoffs.

Seven matches. That’s it. The time for Portland to prove their postseason worthiness is now…in the next seven matches.

NEXT UP: September 13 – Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Col. 9:00 p.m. EST, KPDX-TV (Oregon/SW Washington), 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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