The Portland Timbers Playoff Hopes Are Still Alive

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Joe Hojnacki

The Portland Timbers playoff hopes aren’t dead yet. The defending MLS Cup Champions find themselves three points behind their arch rival Seattle Sounders, who hold the games won tiebreaker, have a game in hand, and can’t seem to lose anymore. They are two back of Sporting Kansas City, who seem to be fading fast. While Portland is struggling to see anything go right, they may be mostly dead, but they are still alive.

Between the need to actually find an away win and requiring a team or two to collapse in the final weeks, a lot of outside factors need to work in Portland’s favor in order for them to sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs this season. But let’s not count them out quite yet.

The Portland Timbers Playoff Hopes Are Still Alive

So, for the Timbers fans holding out justified hope, here’s what needs to happen for a repeat run at the cup to occur:

Win vs. Colorado Rapids and at Vancouver

This is the obvious thing that needs to go right. A win at home against the Colorado Rapids on October 16 and then one on the road at Vancouver on Decision Day, October 23 is simply the first step. Making life more difficult, they will have to balance these two season defining fixtures agaisnt a CONCACAF Champions League tilt against Deportivo Saprissa at Providence Park just four days before the season finale. Oh, by the way, that one is also a must win if Portland wants to see knockout round action in the CCL next spring.

Thankfully, two wins aren’t too much to ask for. The Timbers were the better team at times against The Rapids on Saturday night. They created chances that left the end result disappointing, as Caleb Porter pointed out after the match: “That’s what makes this result so tough to swallow because it felt like it was there for the taking. We played well enough in the first half to score a goal. This is kind of the way it’s gone for us.” Some home cooking before the rematch could do them wonders.

If you’re looking for a win on the road, Vancouver is far from the worst place to search. The Caps are tied for the bottom in MLS with only five home wins on the season. They have the most porous defense in the Western Conference, having allowed 51 goals. They’ve also been shutout in four of their last six matches.

Seattle, Sporting Kansas City, or Real Salt Lake need to fail

Despite taking six of nine points against their arch rivals, the Timbers find themselves three points behind the Sounders and behind on the games won tiebreaker. Seattle also has an extra match to play before their season closes, so they have an extra shot to widen the gap. Their three remaining matches are a little tricky. First is a midweek clash at home against the lowly Houston Dynamo (who beat Portland last weekend). While that shouldn’t be much of an issue, a trip to likely Supporters Shield winners FC Dallas on October 16 and hosting Real Salt Lake to end the campaign won’t be simple wins.

Sporting Kansas City is currently two points ahead of Portland. Even on games remaining, they will head to Utah to take on RSL in two weeks and they host hapless San Jose Earthquakes on Decision Day.

The wild card here is Real Salt Lake. They fave both of the primary opposition to a Timbers playoff spot, and they also could fall apart and gift one to the Rose City. They find themselves only four points above the red line and facing a couple teams that are also chasing playoff spots to close out their season. If Seattle or Kansas City can’t fail, perhaps RSL can.

This is a lot to have go right. But it’s far from impossible. A win at home against Colorado, even after Saturday’s somewhat unlucky defeat, isn’t tough to imagine. In the final game, Vancouver isn’t going to be playing for anything. They have struggled to score all season. They tend to concede a lot. Portland will see themselves with a great opportunity to get their first, and only, road win of the season to save their playoff lives.

So, the Portland Timbers playoff hopes are only mostly dead, and they might not need Miracle Max to save them, either.