Despite a frustrating scoreless draw at home on Saturday against FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers are in position to earn their fourth playoff berth in their eight MLS seasons.
The Timbers (13-9-9) have 48 points. Since Portland joined MLS in 2011, no Western Conference team that has reached 50 points has missed the playoffs. By that measure, one win or two draws in the remaining three games should get Portland over the line as one of six teams in the West in the postseason.
Currently fourth, the Timbers' remaining games are Saturday at Real Salt Lake (sixth with 46 points), at home Oct. 21 against RSL and Oct. 28 at Vancouver. The Timbers' road struggles — 0-4-1 and outscored 15-5 in their last five away from home — indicate it could be a turbulent final approach.
Here is a look at the other West playoff contenders:
FC Dallas (first place, 54 points) — Home: Orlando City, Sporting Kansas City; Away: DC United, Colorado. The only Western team to have clinched a playoff spot, Dallas has two challenging matches and two likely wins.
Sporting Kansas City (second place, 52 points) — Home: L.A. Galaxy, Los Angeles FC; Away: Vancouver, FC Dallas. A 2-2-1 September kept SKC in the hunt for first place, and matches against FC Dallas and LAFC the final two weekends give Sporting a shot at the top.
Los Angeles FC (third place, 50 points) — Home: Houston, Vancouver; Away: Colorado, Sporting Kansas City. The expansion side might be the favorite to emerge on top, with two home games it should win and a near automatic three points at Colorado.
Seattle (fifth place, 47 points) — Home: Houston, San Jose; Away: Orlando, Houston. San Jose and Orlando City are at the bottom of each conference, and Houston is 10th in the West. If the Sounders stay focused, they have a real shot at third place, at least.
Real Salt Lake (sixth place, 46 points) — Home: Portland, New England; Away: Portland. The matches against Portland are like playoff games for RSL.
L.A. Galaxy (seventh place, 44 points) — Home: Houston; Away: Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United. Two consecutive 3-0 wins have breathed life into the Galaxy. If they can defend with any consistency, their firepower (Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 20 goals and nine assists in 24 appearances) makes the Galaxy extremely dangerous.
Vancouver (eighth place, 40 points) — Home: Sporting Kansas City, Portland; Away: Toronto FC, Los Angeles FC. The 'Caps already turned the page by firing coach Carl Robinson last week. Losers of three in a row and with a challenging remaining schedule, Vancouver's focus should be on 2019.
For the times, at least October is far more manageable than the month just ended. In September, Portland played six games, had two wins and a draw at home and a draw and two losses on the road.
The Timbers' September started with a road game at New England that was Portland's third over seven days. The September slate later included the Timbers' third stretch of three games over eight days.
Such is life in MLS. And the Timbers aren't about to use the schedule as an explanation for their up-and-down play, or for poor defensive efforts in their most recent road games. But, especially for a team with some young/new players and a new coach, lost training time impacts game preparation.
"We've been evolving," Portland coach Gordon Savarese says. "In those weeks in which you don't have time to make things clear in training, it makes a difference."
Evolution takes time. Even with a week to prepare, the Timbers' attack struggled against FC Dallas on Saturday. With Sebastian Blanco suspended, Savarese partnered Jeremy Ebobisse with Samual Armenteros up front in a 4-4-2 formation. A lack of chemistry between the forwards made midfielder Diego Valeri work just to find the ball. Lucas Melano, who came on for Armenteros in the 74th minute, was the most dangerous attacker in that game. Each of the forwards attempted only one shot.
No doubt the Timbers missed Blanco's craft and feistiness against Dallas. His absence made it too easy for Dallas to keep Valeri away from dangerous spots.
The forwards have scored just one of Portland's 11 goals over the past nine games. And Portland has received only two goals from strikers since Fanendo Adi departed. So the partnership between Valeri and Blanco is the best thing going on the attack.
• Though he made one big save in a Timbers shutout, Saturday turned into a painful 30th birthday for goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. Diving to prevent a corner kick in the 82nd minute, Attinella dislocated his right shoulder. He tried to continue but could not.
It's a tough blow for Attinella, who missed the previous four-plus games with a hamstring injury.
• Center back Liam Ridgewell will not be part of this week's game at Real Salt Lake after drawing a red card from referee Allen Chapman. While going up to contest a header, Ridgewell caught FC Dallas forward Roland Lamah with cleats to his backside.
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