For the first time this season the Portland Timbers are in a playoff position. Alvas Powell's first MLS goal got the visiting Timbers on the score sheet, while Maxi Urruti and Rodney Wallace added a pair of insurance goals as Portland cruised across the finish line in a 3-0 victory Saturday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.
Portland head coach Caleb Porter intimated to the media earlier in the week that there might be changes coming to the Timbers' starting lineup when they faced off against the Whitecaps in a key Cascadia matchup with significant playoff implications. In all, the gaffer made five changes to the group he sent out last week in a 2-4 loss at home to Seattle--most notably along the back line. With Norberto Paparatto serving a one-game suspension for an elbow to Chad Marshall last weekend, Pa Modou Kah stepped in to pair with Liam Ridgewell in the center of defense. Kah's return almost got off to a disastrous start as he brought down Pedro Morales with an ill-timed challenge in the 2nd minute, but the Gambian escaped punishment and settled down to co-lead the defense with Ridgewell to the team's third clean sheet of the season.
Porter also elected for a new pair of fullbacks with Powell and Jorge Villafana getting their numbers called. Powell more than justified his inclusion when he scored the game's opening goal in 51st minute with the slightest of headers off a Diego Valeri cross. The young Jamaican also looked uncharacteristically composed for virtually all of his run before coming off in the 74th minute due to cramps; Powell's speed and ability to get forward proved to be key components throughout the evening.
Michael Harrington replaced Powell and immediately had an impact. With fresh legs, Harrington galloped deep into the attacking third just a minute after coming on. His ball cut back on the ground into the Vancouver penalty area found another substitute, Urruti, who settled and fired a shot that skimmed off the underside of the crossbar and across the line.
Not content to just sit back and preserve the win on the road, Portland continued to press and in the 79th minute Wallace tallied following some good individual work from Darlington Nagbe.
The three points move the Timbers into 5th place in the Western Conference, though the Whitecaps do have a game in hand. With Colorado's six-game losing streak and San Jose far enough back not to be a real threat (despite their two games in hand on Portland), it increasingly looks like a two-team race for the final playoff spot between Portland and Vancouver. The foes will square off again September 20th in Portland.
Next up for the Timbers is a home match against San Jose this coming Sunday at 2:00 p.m.