Last weekend the Portland Timbers earned just their 2nd shutout of the season in a 2-0 win against Chivas USA. After picking up only 5 points and 0 wins from their first 8 games, the Timbers find themselves just 2 points out of the 5th and final playoff spot in the West, and only 6 points behind 3rd place FC Dallas. A few weeks ago it appeared that the Timbers would need a miracle to make the playoffs, they now find themselves solidly in playoff contention.
Since the beginning of May, the Timbers are averaging 1.67 points per game, picking up 7 wins and 4 draws in their last 15 matches.
In 2013, when the Portland Timbers finished 1st in the Western Conference and only 2 points behind Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bull, the Timbers finished with 57 points, averaging 1.68 points per game.
Are the Portland Timbers Playoff Bound?
Can the Timbers kick on and make the playoffs, or will a leaky defense be their downfall?
While it’s easy to say that at this point in the season every game is important, the Timbers remaining games in August should prove vital in determining whether the Timbers kick on and move into a playoff spot, or fall out of contention. Portland faces the struggling New England Revolution this Saturday in New England. Then, after a midweek CONCACAF Champions League match in Guyana the Timbers host Seattle next weekend and play in Vancouver the following week.
If the Timbers are to stay in playoff contention they need good results in each of these games. The match against the Revolution is a must win because there aren’t many times where a team can get an “easy 3 point” in MLS, but facing the Revs right now seems to be one of those. In their last 10 games the Revs have only a single win, with their most recent loss a 2nd half collapse against 10-man New York.
While a draw against Seattle could be considered a good result according to their places in the standings, anyone who knows anything about Cascadia knows that to the team and the fans anything but a win against the Sounders, especially at home, would be unacceptable.
Perhaps the most important of the three is the August 30 matchup in Vancouver. The Whitecaps currently sit 5th in the West, two points ahead of the Timbers with a game in hand. This game provides the Timbers with a crucial opportunity to pick up points against a playoff rival. Given the Whitecaps recent form, only one win in their last six, the Timbers may be visiting at just the right time.
Much of the Timbers recent success has come at the hands (or feet) of Argentinian playmaker Diego Valeri. The Portland midfielder has 7 goals and 6 assists on the season, including goals in each of the Timbers last 4 games, 3 of which have been wins. Valeri truly is the force that drives the Timbers forward, leading the team in shots (2.9 per game), key passes (2.6 per game), and assists, while being second in goals.
Valeri’s recent success has jump started a Portland offense that got off to a slow start to open the season. After scoring 8 goals in their first 8 games, 4 of which came in the game against Seattle, the Timbers are tied with FC Dallas with a league leading 38 goals scored, averaging 2 goals per game in their last 15 matches.
With their offense clicking, it’s likely to be the Timbers defense that decides whether or not they make the playoffs. Portland has given up the 3rd most goals in MLS this year with 38, only a season after conceding the 2nd least goals, giving up only 33 all of last season.
Recent Designated Player addition Liam Ridgewell seems to have had a positive impact on the backline, though he hasn’t stopped them conceding goals. In Ridgewell’s 4 games played the Timbers have won 3, but conceded 2, 2, 3, and 0, with the shutout against Chivas being only their 2nd shutout of the season.
Last weekend’s match against Chivas USA in fact was somewhat of a microcosm of the Timbers season thus far. The Timbers led 2-0 at the half, after limiting Chivas to only one (off target) shot. Portland dominated possession and played with an attacking fluidity and freedom not often seen this season, and the defense for the most part looked solid.
The second half was a different story. Chivas possessed the ball much more than in the 1st half and was pushing forward for much of the half. They managed 8 shots, 3 key passes, 3 successful dribbles, attempted 15 crosses (against only 7 in the 1st half) and were a consistent attacking threat against a defense that looked much shakier. Had it been a team with more attacking quality, the Timbers could easily have conceded multiple goals.
What must also be concerning for the Timbers from the 2nd half of the Chivas game was their own inability to score on the counter. In the last two years the Timbers have found much success in the counter-attack, banging in the goals when teams are forced to attack playing from behind. Most of the Timbers struggles have come when the opposition scores first and can sit with men behind the ball, frustrating the Portland attack. In the 2nd half of this game, even with Chivas throwing men forward to get back in the game, Portland was unable to add to their tally.
For Portland to make the playoffs, the defense will need to improve, something that has been said all season long, and the Timbers will need to take advantage of their counterattacking opportunities in order to put teams away. With CONCACAF Champions League matches also coming up, it will be interesting to see if the Timbers can achieve some sort of consistency in their play while rotating their lineup to keep players fresh for key games.
Portland may very well make the playoffs, but it is likely to be a roller coaster of a ride.
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