HARRISON, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: When in doubt, add a photo of Coach John Spencer yelling at something. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
The playoffs are so close, and yet so far away for the Portland Timbers. With the players healthy and coming off a big win away against the Vancouver Whitecaps the Timbers are in a good position to make the playoffs. In this bye week for the Timbers with only a few games going on we can take a look at the way the playoff run-up is taking shape.
The Race For The Final Playoff Berths
With only three weeks to go in the regular season, the Timbers find themselves competing with the same three teams for the final two playoff positions . The New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo are each on 43 points, while the Timbers and D.C. United are behind on points but have games in hand. Each team needs to grab maximum points or risk falling behind.
New York Red Bulls
43 points, 32 games
Sporting Kansas City (A), Philadelphia (H)
New York is coming off several big results, beating the Timbers and the L.A. Galaxy at home and even temporarily going 1st in the eastern conference. However, the two teams they face are also battling for the top seed in the conference and playing some good football with SKC only losing twice at home this year and Philadelphia in the midst of a six game unbeaten streak.
Predicted Points: 1 (44 Total)
43 points, 32 games
Remaining Schedule: Portland Timbers (A), L.A. Galaxy (H)
Somehow the Dynamo are the team that both has their destiny in their own hands and also have their destiny completely out of their control. Portland away is a trip that no team is looking forward to, but Houston could cement their playoff chances with a win here. The game against the Galaxy, however, is very dependent on how the Galaxy play in their Superclassico match-up against Chivas USA the week before. If the Galaxy have won and sewn up the Supporters Shield then they will likely be not as motivated against Houston on the road. However, if the Galaxy have not yet clinched the league, they will have to come out swinging against the Dynamo and, despite their recent troubles, the Galaxy are capable of doing some damage.
Predicted Points: 3 (46 Total)
40 points, 31 games
Remaining Schedule: Houston Dynamo (H), D.C. United (A), Real Salt Lake (A)
Before anything else, the Timbers need to win against Houston to have any chance of reaching the playoffs. Three points at home is doable, but the trick is to win by two goals in order to beat Houston in the head to head series should the teams be tied on points at the end of the regular season. D.C. United will likely be one of the most difficult challenges that the Timbers will face on the road this year, playing a motivated team sporting a strong candidate for MVP that shut the Timbers down in their own house earlier this year. The Timbers last game against RSL is something of an enigma. RSL keeps showing flashes of the quality that helped them set the league record for an unbeaten streak, but as of late they have been in a tailspin, particularly after their 3-0 loss to the lowly Whitecaps. If the Timbers can grab five points from these last three games then they should be playoff bound.
Predicted Points: 6 (46 Total)
38 points, 30 games
Remaining Schedule: Vancouver Whitecaps (A), Chicago Fire (H), Portland Timbers (H), Sporting Kansas City (H)
What would have looked like a wonderful schedule to have only a month ago now looks like a stern test for D.C. United. The Whitecaps, although weak against the Timbers, showed that they can play in their new home at BC Place yesterday against Real Salt Lake. Similarly, after sitting near the bottom of the table for much of the year the Fire are somehow still in contention for a playoff spot, although they would just about need to win out to grab one. The Timbers seem to have stabilized somewhat on the road with a second road win against their hated enemies up north. Finally, SKC will likely be battling with New York, Philadelphia and the Columbus Crew for first place in the East. Did I mention that all of this will take place over the course of ten days?
Projected Points: 5 (43 Total)
The Guys Just Above
The Timbers could reach as high as fourth place by the end of the season, should every game in the league align just right. This unlikely situation would, amazingly, still keep them out of an automatic berth in the west. While it is certainly possible for a number of teams to fall down past the Timbers, it would likely only be at the cost of raising up one of the teams that the Timbers are lined up against and the two most likely to crash out, Columbus and Philadelphia, are eastern conference automatic berths, regardless.
The Guys Just Below
The Chicago Fire just keep plugging away and are the last remaining team below D.C. to not be mathematically eliminated form the playoffs. Somehow the Fire are keeping hope alive, but they will need to keep piling on the wins if they want to qualify.