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The Timbers hit the road Sunday for a morning battle between two clubs looking to enhance MLS playoff chances.

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Yimmi Chara and the Portland Timbers look to extend their four-match winning streak when they travel to Columbus to face the Crsew on Sunday, Sept. 18.Portland's trip to Columbus on Sunday will have an old-home feel for Diego Chara, who will be opposite former teammate Darlington Nagbe in midfield and former coach Caleb Porter on the Columbus bench.

HOW TO WATCH

When: 10 a.m. PT Sunday, Sept. 18

Where: Lower.com Field, Columbus, Ohio

TV: ESPN

Radio: 750 AM

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Timbers have ridden opportunistic offense, structured defending and some great goalkeeper play from Aljaz Ivacic to four consecutive one-goal wins — a surge that has lifted Portland five points above the playoff line entering the weekend. The Crew had to play a challenging Tuesday match at Inter Miami, losing 2-1 in a game interrupted by a weather delay at halftime.

Sometimes, inter-conference matches can be go-for-it affairs since three points for the opponent isn't a big deal. But, given the stakes — the Crew enter the weekend in the seventh and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, just one point above eighth place; the Timbers are sixth in the West — expect a tactical contest.

It will be interesting to watch the midfield battle. Darlington Nagbe, now 32, is still one of the best in MLS at getting out of tight spots.

Columbus has scored only 40 goals in 30 games, but its 35 goals allowed is second fewest in the Eastern Conference.

Portland will be without Zac McGraw (yellow card suspension), so it will be interesting to see if coach Giovanni Savarese inserts Larrys Mabiala into the three centerback formation that has worked well of late, or if he reverts to a four-man backline.

The Columbus attack is driven by Argentine midfielder Lucas Zelarayan (nine goals, 10 assists) and Colombian forward Juan "Cucho" Hernandez (nine goals, two assists).

Playoff picture — Results continued to favor the Timbers, for the most part on Saturday. Vancouver beat Seattle 2-1, making it likely the Sounders miss the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in their 14-season history. … Nashville and Austin played to a 1-1 draw, meaning a Sunday win at Columbus would lift Portland up to fourth place in the Western Conference. The LA Galaxy beat Colorado 4-1, but still trail the sixth-place Timbers by two points with three games left for both teams. And Minnesota United lost to Sporting Kansas City, meaning a Sunday draw puts Portland up to fifth place.


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