Welcome to late-season Portland Timbers soccer! Where the pressure to make the playoffs seemingly reaches new heights every week, and each game becomes a new exercise in managing our anxiety levels. Home field advantage has essentially been squandered, and neither you, I, or anyone else knows how the season is going to turn out.
That sound you hear is me frantically squeezing all the stress balls I can find to try to relieve my creeping sense of dread.
In all seriousness, the season really feels like it’s hanging in the balance this weekend. A win would put the Timbers back into more certain playoff contention and help calm a lot of nerves, while anything less than that would cause … much worse reactions. With the bottom half of the Western Conference being just as tight as ever, results around the league become all the more relevant for the Timbers.
Four games left. We can get through this, friends. Here’s who Timbers fans should root for around MLS this weekend.
Atlanta United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.)
At this point, you can probably pencil in Seattle and Minnesota as locks to join LAFC in the playoffs in the West. This means one of RSL, the Galaxy, San Jose, Dallas, or Portland will miss out. Which further means that any points dropped by any of those teams not named Portland is invaluable. Ergo, let’s hope that Atlanta decides to eat San Jose for lunch on Saturday.
Root for: Atlanta to win 3-0. Josef Martinez scores a brace, and out of nowhere Darlington Nagbe scores a thirty-yard screamer. Chris Wondolowski manages to put the ball in the net three times, but each time the goal is called back after a VAR review. At least this time Wondo has an excuse for not scoring.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Columbus Crew SC (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.)
A game that really only holds significance for folks living north of the border and Caleb Porter. Vancouver is already eliminated, and Columbus very soon will join them. Who you root for here depends on how you feel about the Whitecaps and how you feel about the previous Timbers boss.
Root for: A silly 2-2 draw. Every goal is an own goal, David Guzman and Fredy Montero get simultaneous red cards, and Caleb Porter almost gets into a fight with Marc Dos Santos.
FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)
Cincinnati might set the record for most goals conceded in a season, which would make this the third straight year that this particular record has been broken. Do I want to see history made, even if it is the miserable kind for Cincinnati fans? Am I still salty about the loss to them back in March? Yes, and yes.
Root for: A 4-0 Chicago win, because sure, why not? Chicago has an outside shot of an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs, and looking at the rest of their schedule (home vs. Toronto, away at Orlando) it’s actually maybe doable, with some help. I want Decision Day to be as chaotic as possible, so Chicago staying alive suits my selfish needs.
New England Revolution vs. Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)
RSL dropping points in a tough road trip to New England would be the lovely start to Autumn that fans of the Timbers would like to see. I have a hunch that New England might be primed go off in this game too, based upon their previous few results.
Root for: A 4-1 New England win. Kelyn Rowe gets a goal in his return to Foxborough, but the Revs run rampant and bang in four, all in the first half. Bruce Arena, seeing no need to send his strongest team to Portland after a comprehensive win, sends just 16 players for the game on Wednesday. He doesn’t even go himself, deciding to coach from his couch while his staff facetimes him in via an iPad.
Houston Dynamo vs. Orlando City SC (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.)
Not terribly relevant to Timbers fans, but Houston winning might mean that they stay more engaged for their final few games of the season — two of which are against RSL and the Galaxy. Is this just wishful thinking? Probably ... But hey, what else do we have at this point?
Root for: A 1-0 Houston win. Tommy McNamara gets the assist via tackling the ball away while Orlando was trying to build out of the back. After the match, interim Houston coach Davy Arnaud sits in his office and is muttering about how well “his apprentice” is performing. A janitor walks by, hears him muttering, and says, “Dude. You’re still going on with this bit? It was stale, like, four weeks ago.” Arnaud just stares. “Yes, I am,” he thinks. (I mean he is still doing this bit.)
Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.)
One half of my brain: “Okay, SKC is basically circling the drain and will be eliminated anyway, so what’s one more win? It would eliminate Colorado and remove any doubt of them somehow sneaking into the playoffs.”
Other half of my brain: “Oh, you complete and absolute ninny. SKC is the last road game for Portland, and we don’t want them having any hope heading into that one to hopefully make it more manageable. And there’s no way that the Rapids are making the playoffs — you’re just paranoid.”
What I decided to write: I actually agree with the “other half” this time. Both in the result and in the summation that my brain is paranoid.
Root for: Colorado winning 2-0. Graham Zusi gets nutmegged again, Matt Besler gives up another penalty via a handball, and everyone then depressingly remembers that both of these players were starters in the 2014 World Cup. Peter Vermes decides after the game to just pack it in and play a bunch of academy products for the rest of the season.
LA Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
I know I’ve given Montreal a lot of grief for their coaching situation (again, why?), but they could really do the Timbers a solid here. Everyone is declaring that the Galaxy are back, and that they’re sure to make the playoffs, etc. But remember, this is the team that blew a 2-0 lead at home, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and missed the playoffs on the final day a year ago. Dropping one against Montreal would be a very Galaxy thing to do.
Root for: A cagey 1-0 Montreal win. As he likes to do against the Galaxy, Maxi Urruti scores. It winds up being a carbon copy of his flick goal against the Galaxy from this game back in 2013. Zlatan even gets a headed goal taken off the board just like Robbie Keane did in that game.
LAFC vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Well, well, look at that: LAFC haven’t won in their past three games. The bit of a slide I think we were all wanting to see is kind of happening. They’re still the #1 seed in the West, and will still win the Supporters Shield at some point, but their recent form at least gives us a bit of intrigue to the last few weeks of the season.
Root for: A 3-2 Toronto win. Jozy Altidore and Carlos Vela trade bangers, until Michael Bradley, of all the people on the pitch, scores an Olimpico winner. Despite being solidly mediocre since then, Toronto still chants “2017” over and over again in the visiting locker room to commemorate when they were declared “The Best MLS Team Ever”. Little do they know, they’re about to blow it against Montreal in the Canadian Championship next week.
FC Dallas vs. NYCFC (Sunday, 3:00 p.m.)
We’ll know whether the importance of any FC Dallas result is “really important to the Timbers” or “so important that it might determine the Timbers’ fate” after Portland’s game in hand next Wednesday. Until then, we should all still be rooting for the Pigeons from New York to beat Dallas in Texas.
Root for: A 2-1 NYCFC victory. New NYC star Keaton Parks (who for some reason, just wears “Keaton” on the back of his jersey? What?) scores a brace. Despite still being mathematically alive after suffering a deflating home loss, the fans decide this season might just be lost and resign themselves to missing the playoffs. And no, I just described Dallas fans, not Portland fans.
New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
Zero impact on Portland at this point, so I say root for your favorite sponsor! Like energy drinks that also are soccer team owners and hated pretty much across the globe? Cheer on the Red Bulls! Like baked goods from a company that makes me giggle every time I see it on jerseys? Cheer on Philly! I really don’t care about the result here!
Root for: One of those weird MLS games where just random stuff happens. A copious amount of pregame smoke from smoke bombs delays kickoff. A goal is scored on one end, but then pulled back via VAR due to a handball in the other penalty area, so a penalty is awarded to the team that just got scored on. Three goals are scored in the final minute. Just wild stuff.
DC United vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 5:00 p.m.)
Even the one time Seattle winning on Wednesday night might have helped Portland … and they can’t even do that, can they? Booooo. Vamos, United.
Root for: A 3-0 DC United win, featuring the return of “Lucho-Roo” (one of the weirder nicknames for a duo, in my opinion). Wayne Rooney assists Luciano Acosta on the opener, then scores a penalty drawn by Acosta. Rooney finishes it off by scoring direct from a free kick, also drawn by Acosta. Rooney and Acosta celebrate the goal by running to the sidelines and putting on superhero masks. Rather than the classic “Batman & Robin,” they decide to both wear Batman masks. Nobody gets it at all, but at least both of them are happy.
Disagree? Have any other wild predictions/hopes to throw out there? Let me know below!