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ON SOCCER: After three consecutive losses, Portland finds itself in a battle for an MLS Cup playoffs position.

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - The schedule should be manageable for coach Giovanni Savarese's Timbers on the run-in to the end of the regular season, but there is little margin for error with three matches remaining.To be sure, October is not the time for an MLS club to lose three matches in a row.

To be sure, the Portland Timbers' second-half implosion at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Oct. 20 gives pause if one considers Portland a team capable of making a playoff run.

Truth is, the 2021 Timbers are neither as good as the team that went 7-0-1 to shoot up the standings, nor as bad as the team that was outscored 5-0 in its three most recent halves entering an Oct. 27 home match against San Jose.

But, it's quite likely this team is only as good as Sebastian Blanco. Portland was leading 2-1 when Blanco exited against Vancouver. Because of tightness in a thigh, he didn't play at Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 23 — a smart precaution given how critical the Argentine is to Portland's chances in the postseason.

Of course, it's not as simple as just the status of one very good player. The absence of Claudio Bravo at left back in the three losses was noticeable, too. But Blanco has proven he can put the Portland attack on his back, and his presence means opponents must account for him, which means other Timbers have more space.

Portland entered this week in fourth place in the Western Conference. Stay there over the final three games, and they'll get to open the playoffs at home. Of course, they were only two points ahead of the seventh and final playoff position, and four points up on eighth-place Real Salt Lake.

If they are to enter the playoffs with momentum, the Timbers need to win their home matches Oct. 27 against 10th-place San Jose and Nov. 7 against 13th-place Austin (though the expansion side embarrassed Portland twice already this season). The one remaining road match is Nov. 3 against Real Salt Lake — after a needed weekend off — and could have significant playoff ramifications.

The Oct. 27 match marks the return to Providence Park for forward Jeremy Ebobisse. Popular with Timbers supporters for his activism and his growth as a player, he has one goal and one assist in eight appearances (seven starts) for the Earthquakes since the Aug. 5 trade that sent him to San Jose.

Thorns home Saturday — The Thorns get to wrap up their National Women's Soccer League season with a no-pressure home match against rival North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 30. Portland has clinched the league's top spot and knows it will host a semifinal match on Nov. 14. But the Courage need a result to make the playoffs and the Thorns would take satisfaction from eliminating their rival.

College update — Meanwhile, college soccer produced a few notable results last week. The Portland women earned perhaps the biggest win in Michelle French's tenure, beating defending national champion Santa Clara 2-0 on Oct. 23. Also that night, the Portland men scored a 1-0 road win over 15th-ranked Loyola Marymount. They play three in a row at home, including WCC matches Wednesday, Oct. 27, against Gonzaga and Saturday, Oct. 30, against Pacific.

Oh, and on Oct. 22, No. 8-ranked Oregon State beat top-ranked Washington 3-2 in a men's soccer showdown. The Beavers (9-1-2, 4-0-1 Pac-12) are home Thursday, Oct. 28, against Stanford and Sunday, Oct. 31, against California.


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