Seeing as the Portland Timbers are in the midst of a well earned two-week hiatus from fixtures due to the October international break, I thought I would take a look at the final month of Portland’s season and what it might take for the team to earn a spot in the MLS Playoffs.
After a spectacular past couple months of results, the Timbers find themselves sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference with six games remaining, nestled directly between the Colorado Rapids in third and Real Salt Lake in fifth. I bring both of those teams up because the Timbers will play them in two of their final six games of the season.
With that in mind, just how difficult is the Timbers’ upcoming schedule?
All six of the Timbers' final regular season games will see them play Western Conference teams and four of those games are against teams that either currently occupies a playoff spot or are five or fewer points outside of a playoff spot. In order, those teams are the LA Galaxy, the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Colorado Rapids, the San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, and Austin FC.
Over the last week, I’ve broken the remaining six games into two groups: games that will be difficult and games that shouldn’t be difficult but have proven to be so multiple times this season.
I’ll start with the games that I think will definitely be difficult.
Colorado Rapids (Away) - 3rd in West - 51 pts
Since the Timbers’ red-card and late-goal-laden 2-2 draw with Colorado in September, the Rapids’ results have been somewhat erratic. They have taken eight points from a possible 15 and have been shown two red cards in their last five games. In that time the Rapids have only conceded five goals, the bulk of which came in a 3-0 loss to the Sounders. Currently, the Timbers are five points behind the Rapids, and if the first game between the two was anything to go by, we should expect fireworks at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Real Salt Lake (Away) - 5th in West - 39 pts
So far this season the Timbers have had RSL’s number, winning the first two fixtures of the season 3-2 and 6-1, respectively. But as great as the 6-1 thumping was, I think the Timbers’ third and final match against RSL will be more along the lines of the 3-2 win back in August. The Rapids have taken nine points from their last possible 15, are currently 7 points behind the Timbers, and the teams are also both level on goal difference at +1.
LA Galaxy (Away) - 6th in West - 39 pts
Both the Timbers and the Galaxy have dealt each other heavy defeats in their first two matchups this season. The Timbers beat the Galaxy 3-0 in a game that saw Andy Polo pick up a season ending injury and the Galaxy thrashed the Timbers 4-1 at home in July. Having said that, the Galaxy have plummeted down the standings in the last five games, taking a measly two points from their last possible 15. Despite their poor form, the Galaxy still occupy a playoff spot in the West and any team that has Chicharito, Jonathan Dos Santos, and Efrain Alvarez shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Vancouver Whitecaps - 8th in West - 37 pts
Similar to the Galaxy, the Vancouver Whitecaps have also split the season series with the Timbers. Both teams posted 1-0 victories against each other. Sandwiched between the loss against the Timbers in September, and their most recent 4-1 loss against the Sounders, the Whitecaps were actually in pretty good form, taking eight points from 12 while outscoring their opponents 5-1. Out of the Timbers’ most challenging (on paper) remaining fixtures, the Whitecaps game is the only game at Providence Park, which is a big plus, but expect a hot-blooded Cascadia clash when the two play each other on Oct. 20.
Now for the games that should be winnable for the Timbers but have proven difficult so far this season.
Austin FC - 13th (last) in West - 25 pts
Theoretically, a win against the last-place team in the West on the final day of the regular season should be a given for a team trying to get as high a playoff spot as possible. But the Timbers have been absolutely atrocious against Austin in both of the games they’ve played this year, losing 3-1 and 4-1 to the club in its inaugural MLS season. In fact, Austin has dealt some losses to a few Western Conference playoff hopefuls this year, including wins against RSL and the Galaxy, both of which have come in their last three games. However, if the Timbers continue playing as well as they have during the current eight-game unbeaten stretch they’ll be... Alright, alright, alright.
San Jose Earthquakes - 10th in West - 33 pts
For the most part, the Timbers have had the better of the Earthquakes this season, taking four points from a possible six over the first two games against them. But like Austin, San Jose have made a habit of making games difficult for teams in the Western Conference playoff hunt. Since the start of August, the Earthquakes have taken 15 points off teams above them in the Western Conference, including taking two points off of the Timbers in the 1-1 draw on Aug. 4. Let’s hope our old pal Jeremy Ebobisse doesn’t come back to haunt us in his first return to Providence Park.
As of now, the Seattle Sounders have clinched a playoff spot in the West, and FC Cincinnati have been eliminated from playoff contention in the East. As I mentioned earlier, the Timbers are currently fifth in the West on 46 points, which is nine points above the Whitecaps in eighth just below the red line.
This means that the quickest way for the Timbers to clinch a playoff spot is by winning their next three games against the Galaxy, Whitecaps, and Rapids. I think that scenario is possible considering the Galaxy’s poor form and the Whitecaps game being in Portland, but unlikely due to the fact that the Timbers have to travel to Colorado. The more realistic expectation would be for the Timbers to clinch at home against the Earthquakes on Oct. 27.
Beyond that, a trip to Rio Tinto in November with a playoff spot on the line for both teams, or a visit from newfound bogey team Austin FC would be the fixtures the Timbers would have to clinch a spot in, and personally, it’s a no thank you to either of those ideas.