There is a lot riding on tonight's game. Not only the play offs but as possibly the last game of the year at home, there's an expectation from fans for the Timbers to go out with a win. So while a win or loss tonight doesn't necessarily grant or take away the chance of the play offs, I'd still say that this is easily one of the most important games of the season, right up there with the home opener against the Chicago Fire and the home game against the Seattle Sounders.
But let's discuss the heart of the matter briefly: the play offs. While I said that winning or losing tonight's match doesn't have a finality to the race, being the last home game of the year and with two very difficult road games I'd go ahead and consider Portland to be "out" of the race should they lose tonight. By my estimation the Timbers will need at least 46 points to make it to the play-offs which means it's already an uphill battle. Two road games in 4 days isn't likely to produce 6 points.
So yes, while mathematically the Timbers are still in it regardless of tonight's result, the challenge will be significantly increased if they fail to get the three points, especially since it will, at the same time, be aiding one of Portland's primary rivals in the race to the wild card positions.
Assessing Our Team
The guys are coming off quite the break due to the international weekend. It's been almost two weeks since they last played a competitive match. This is probably a good thing because over the next 8 days they'll be forced to play three game, two of them away from Portland.The big news for tonight's game will be the return of captain Jack Jewsbury and Khalif Alhassan. When the team was in Vancouver they were forced to adjust their line up due to the absences. This week both are unsuspended and should take up their regular spots.
This will probably mean that we'll see Jorge Perlaza on the bench again and Darlington Nagbe will take his forward spot with Kenny Cooper up top, a combination that's been paying off recently. It'll also mean that Jewsbury will come in for James Marcelin.
One player we don't talk about too often here at Stumptown Footy is Peter Lowry. Last week in Vancouver he was an unused substitute, a spot he doesn't usually have. This week, I think I'd like to see him get some minutes as a sub late in the second half. He's played really well in the reserve league and is one of the big reasons why they did so well this year (if only they could have had their play offs!).
Here's my predicted starting line up:
Assessing the Enemy
Houston is currently a team that the Timbers are fighting with for one of the final wild card spots, along with the New York Red Bulls. But seeing as how Houston only has two games left in the season (including tonight's) they'll be coming into the match with a must-win mentality, especially given that their final home game next week is against the league winners the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Looking towards their attacking options we can expect, once again, for Adam Moffat to take the field. According to my interview with Zach Woosley of Dynamo Theory yesterday, Moffat has become a mainstay on the team since the trade. Those of you who also watched the last meet up between the two sides will remember that it was Adam Moffat who scored the first of the match, only days after joining the team.
Additionally, Brian Ching is expected to take the field once again tonight. The USMNT star also scored against the Timbers during the last meet so he'll be somebody the Timbers will want to watch out for.
Here's Houston's predicted starting line up: