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The Chase For The Playoffs, Continued

PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 24:  Sal Zizzo #7 of the Portland Timbers battles against Ante Jazic #13 of  Chivas USA  on August 24, 2011 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 24: Sal Zizzo #7 of the Portland Timbers battles against Ante Jazic #13 of Chivas USA on August 24, 2011 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The Portland Timbers are a mere point outside a playoff spot.  With only eight games left in the regular season, a playoff berth is a prospect that suddenly seems attainable despite all the team’s struggles this season as explored in our piece yesterday written by Ryan Gates.  Today we will take a longer look at the Timbers’ remaining schedule.

The Timbers fate is held in their own hands and each week from now until the end of the season will be vital.  The final eight games will not be easy, but with the grit and toughness promised by Coach John Spencer at the beginning of the season the Timbers have every chance of making it through.

However, they could probably use a little help along the way.

The battle for the wild card playoff spots is wide open and with 42 points being the likely bare minimum needed to qualify, the field looks something like this:

8. Houston Dynamo 35 pts 26 gp
9. Philadelphia Union 34 pts 24 gp
10. New York Red Bulls 32 pts 26 gp
11. Portland Timbers 32 pts 26 gp
12. Chivas USA 31 pts 26 gp
13. DC United 31 pts 24 gp

With six teams competing for three spots, the Timbers are still in the thick of things.

Four of the Timbers eight remaining matches are six pointers, a chance to win three points while denying three points to an opponent close to you on the table, as they will have the chance to play the Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, and DC United.  Of the remaining four games, three are against teams below the Timbers on the league table and only Real Salt Lake, the Timbers final opponent of the regular season, are above the fray of the playoff hunt.

So how will the Timbers fare against these opponents?  Here is a game by game breakdown of the Timbers remaining match-ups.

The Remaining Schedule

To Be Rescheduled @ DC United

August has been a difficult month for DC, taking four points in two home games but only one point in two games on the road.  A 1-0 loss to playoff competitors Sporting Kansas City will be a tough pill to swallow, but DC will be looking to recover at home against the Timbers.

United have proven themselves a tough team at home and one that are capable of pouring on the goals.  In their two home games during the month of August, DC have scored seven goals while allowing three.  During match against the Timbers earlier this year, DC snapped the Timbers home unbeaten streak scoring three goals along the way.

While denying three points, or even two, to DC would go a long way toward getting the Timbers into the playoffs it will be hard to find points on the road against United.

Prediction: Timbers loss


9/10 @ Philadelphia Union

After going to the top of the eastern conference for much of the season, the Union have struggled to find their form in recent games.  These struggles have only been exacerbated by the loss of key players Jordan Harvey, traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Carlos Ruiz, sold to Mexican side Veracruz. 

Now without a win in their last five games, the Union will have the opportunity to right the ship before Portland comes to town with a home match against the New England Revolution.

Given the Union’s offensive issues since the departure of Ruiz; the Timbers, who will be well rested since their match against DC, will likely be able to hold Philadelphia’s attack in check.  The Philly defense is still strong and will be a hard nut for the Timbers to crack, making the Union a tough team to beat on the road.

Prediction: Timbers tie


9/16 vs. New England Revolution

The Revolution, against whom the Timbers earned their first road point, have struggled all season.  Despite some talented additions since the Timbers last saw them, including United States Men's National Team midfielder Benny Feilhaber, the Revs have been unable to find much joy on the road where they have been the Timbers equal in futility, only picking up one win on the season.

Tied with Toronto in the basement of the east, New England will certainly look to play the spoiler as they visit the Timbers, but this should be three points that the Timbers can pick up handily.

Prediction: Timbers win

9/21 vs. San Jose Earthquakes

A month ago the Quakes were in the thick of the playoff hunt, but after a run that saw them pick up only three points from six games, San Jose does not have cause for optimism.  Last year’s late playoff run on the back of a bevy of Chris Wondolowski goals does not seem likely to be repeated.

A second home game in a row against a bottom of the table team is a godsend for the Timbers, who will need the confidence that two home wins can bring.  The Timbers need to take all the home points they can in this final stretch, and they look to have every opportunity to do so against San Jose.

Prediction: Timbers win


9/24 @ New York Red Bulls

While the beginning of the season saw the Red Bulls hailed as the next great club of Major League Soccer, the end of the season sees them in an entirely different position.  Hans Backe, New York’s coach, has gone from coaching the MLS All-Stars against Manchester United to being on the hot seat with questions about his management and trade decisions.

As of now the Red Bulls are win-less in seven games.  However, look for that to change as Vancouver comes to town for New York’s next game.

The Red Bulls have plenty of quality on their team but they will likely continue to struggle this season and are perhaps one of the Timbers' best chances to take points on the road during the remainder of the year.  However, by the time the Timbers take them on it seems likely that New York will have righted the ship and the full three points will be very hard to come by in Harrison.

Prediction: Timbers tie

10/2 @ Vancouver Whitecaps

The Whitecaps sit at the bottom of the table in MLS with only eighteen points on the season, half of Portland’s total.  Many analysts are calling this game for the Timbers but as with any true rivalry form means nothing coming into this match.

In the two team’s first meeting in MLS at Portland this last Saturday the Timbers looked dominant through most of the game, only showing weakness in the final minutes.  However, traveling up to Vancouver for the opening of the Whitecaps’ new stadium BC Place and the final game in the Cascadia Cup will be an entirely different experience.

The Timbers have the edge on quality and their excellent counterattacking style of late matches up well against a very possession based Vancouver team, but this game will be no walk in the park.  All that being said, the Timbers need three points from this game; anything less would be a disappointment.

Prediction: Timbers win


10/14 vs. Houston Dynamo

The Timbers' final regular season home game of 2011 will be a huge one.  The Houston Dynamo will be completing their final playoff push as well and will likely need to take all three points to secure a playoff spot, something they have not yet been able to do on the road this year.

Leading up to the game the Dynamo will likely have been in a similar situation to the Timbers, facing several playoff competitors and several teams on the bottom looking to spoil their fun.  This game should be a battle with the victors coming away with a playoff spot secured.

At Houston the Timbers struggled after going behind to Adam Moffat’s wonder strike from 40 yards out.  However, in Portland, with 20,000 fans crammed into the expanded seating at Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers have every opportunity to win this one.

Prediction: Timbers win


10/22 @ Real Salt Lake

Favorites to win it all at the beginning of the season, Salt Lake have been unable to find any kind of form since early losses to Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League and the Timbers in MLS.  They have still picked up points with some regularity, but they are far from the unstoppable juggernaut that teams feared at the beginning of the season.

The loss of playmaker Javier Morales was a severe blow to RSL, but they already looked out of sorts before his injury.

With seven of their remaining eleven games on the road, RSL will likely struggle to finish out the season strong.  Rio Tinto Stadium remains a tough place to play, both because of the altitude and RSL’s fervent fan base, but so long as the Timbers are still in the playoff hunt, they will have a good chance at taking at least a point there.

Prediction: Timbers tie

Final predicted points: 45

Could the Timbers go to the playoffs with fewer points than this?  They do have some leeway, so it is certainly possible but not particularly probable.  The teams that the Timbers will be facing, particularly the Red Bulls, Dynamo, Union, and United all have very similar schedules to the Timbers but with more home games, so it will be important for the Timbers to deny them points.

If the Timbers can find a way to bring home points on the road, however, the playoffs are well within reach.