Timbers Prepare for Playoffs

The Timbers played a critical game on Sept. 20 against the Colorado Rapids, fighting their way one step closer to securing a playoffs spot. The once first-place Timbers have dropped down the MLS Western Conference rankings as of late, making every game that much more important with only four games remaining in their regular season. The Timbers have fallen so far that—dare I say it—a great season could be tarnished should the Timbers end up on the wrong side of one or two of the remaining matches. Time to grab those lucky rabbit’s feet, knock on wood or rub that random bald guy’s head, Portland fans! The Timbers need their army.

The meeting between the Rapids and Timbers was broadcast on a national NBC stage as the local audience totaled 20,674 (the 48th consecutive sellout at Jeld-Wen Field), all standing witness to what could later be described as a gritty and ugly battle. The meeting was tense as both teams held impressive feats, the Timbers being unbeaten at home since March and the Rapids winning 11 of their last 12 games.

Regardless of the ugly game play, the Timbers pulled out a gut-wrenching win to boost themselves into the number three spot for some short-lived playoff contention safety. The win came on the foot of Diego Valeri’s early goal and a stout Portland back line. The Timbers also made an interesting change in the lineup though as MLS rookie forward Maximiliano Urruti (say that three times fast—if you said it once you did better than me) went in for Ryan Johnson and earned his first career start.

The only telltale eruption of green smoke and chainsaws came during the thirteenth minute, when the Timbers struck off a nice pressure by Urruti that resulted in an intercepting header by Rodney Wallace that bounced perfectly to Diego Valero, who placed a beautiful touch chip shot that floated out of reach of helpless Rapids goal keeper Clinton Irwin and into the goal.

In a surprisingly odd change of events, the crowd was forced to constantly berate the refs for 99 percent of the first half, as opposed to the usual 85 percent. At one point, Portland bias aside, it seemed as if the ref was actually wearing a Rapids jersey as he flagged the Timbers early and often.

The half came to an end with the Timbers on top by just one goal (1-0). The Timbers held 45 percent possession of the ball, but managed a beautiful 69 percent of the foul calls (real number, folks, Google it).

After the half, looking for fresh legs and a veteran perspective, the Timbers substituted in the team’s leading scorer, Ryan Johnson, for Urruti. Urruti ended the night with one yellow card, one questionable injury, and a ton of near-goals that showed off his raw but undeniable potential.

In the second half the Timbers buckled down and, in the words of team captain Will Johnson, “We locked it down, we had to grind and fight. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but we got the job done.” And getting the job done is exactly what they, as the Timbers, held on to the victory with. The back line managed to hold the Rapids to just one shot on frame the entire match, despite nine corner kicks. The Timbers decided to roll with a veteran back line instead of the fresher faces they have featured in recent days, showcasing Pa-Modou Kah, Futty Danso, Michael Harrington and Jack Jewbury, who have a collective 512 career MLS matches under their belts.

Timbers Head Coach Caleb Porter describes the game best, “Listen, the game wasn’t pretty the entire game. There were times it was direct, there were balls in the air and second balls. That is MLS—it is, a lot of the time, the way things go. We need to be able to win those games.”

While not a pretty win, it was an important win for the gritty Timbers. The team will look to keep their aspirations alive in the upcoming pre-playoff games, a goal that team captain Will Johnson weighed in on: “I think every game down the stretch is going to be tight, everyone is jockeying for position.” Tight games or not, the Timbers proved that they are able and willing to defeat tough competition, regardless of how the game is played and whether or not the refs are on their side.

The Timbers continued their streak of important wins after welcoming the LA Galaxy last Sunday for another important Western Conference meeting. Urruti earned his second start of the season, and it paid dividends for the Timbers when he netted the only goal of the match. The goal was a beautiful set piece orchestrated by Johnson as he booted the corner kick into the box and Urrati volleyed it into the goal. The Timbers held the fourth-place Galaxy from scoring by another night of great play by the back line and goal keeper Donovan Ricketts to end the bout 1-0. The Timbers have now cemented themselves into the third place spot, as long as the remaining four games go as planned.

The Timbers will travel to BC Place for a battle with a hungry Vancouver Whitecaps squad Aug. 6 at 5 p.m. The match will be broadcast on Root Sports or at your nearest local Timbers pub.