Victory against the Rapids took the Timbers out of the basement for the first time in what was in reality only a short while but felt so, so much longer. The recent turnaround in play and, crucially, results (I haven’t checked possession and shot stats, sorry) is sowing seeds of hope for 2013 when Caleb Porter will descend from on high – sorry, Ohio – to take over head coach duties.
A casual glance at the standings show that the Timbers are only 10 points behind Vancouver Whitecaps, and have played two fewer matches than our Canuck cousins. 10 points. 2 games. Do we really have to wait till 2013 for the good times to roll…?
I took the recent form of all the teams in the West (over the last six matches) and plugged it into the table to extrapolate how the season may finish.
[table id=3 /]
If you tighten it to the last five matches, the Timbers have the same points but Dallas leapfrog Whitecaps 43-40, so 44 is still the “magic number”.
It doesn’t look good for the Timbers’ play-off chances, but then if things simply run according to “form” we could all pack up already. Still, I do think that if the Timbers were to pull off the unlikeliest play-off run in recent memory, they would have to win at least 5 of their last 8 matches.
The two teams fighting it out for that 5th spot currently are Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas. For RSL, LA and Seattle the rest of the season will see them jostling for 2nd-4th while San Jose seek out their first Supporters’ Shield since 2005 with the cold-blooded determination of Walter White planning an expansion in territory.
Any Chivas fans reading this will, of course, first of all be wondering how the hell they ended up here, but secondly asking, “What about us? We’ve one more point than the Timbers, and we’ve played a game less!” To which I would reply, “Oh hey, Chivas, yeah, I, uh, I didn’t see you skulking about there. Um, yeah, this is awkward, you see, the thing is, no-one really cares about you. You should go and stand over there by New England cos he looks pretty lonely. Sorry, bro.”
Breaking down the run-in’s of Dallas and Vancouver, it’s clear that the advantage lies with the Canadian side. Of their final six matches, four are at home while Dallas hit the road for 3 of their last 5. To return to form tables, if both clubs were to hold up their respective home and away form the Whitecaps would end on 45 points to Dallas’ 37, but the Whitecaps would need to halt an alarming slide that has seen them lose their last four matches.
The Whitecaps and Dallas will meet in a couple of weeks in Texas for a proverbial “six pointer”. Portland will visit Vancouver in October in a match that will either mean everything or nothing, in play-off terms at least.
So let’s assume Dallas beat Vancouver, which there’s a good chance they will do. They then hit the road from three matches on the west coast, playing San Jose, Chivas and Seattle. You would expect San Jose and Seattle to win, and Chivas’ home form (the last couple of matches aside) has been decent so a loss there isn’t inconceivable, but let’s be charitable and give Dallas a point against LA’s Other Team. They would then host Chivas on the last day, and I’d fancy them to win that one, giving them 7 points and a final tally of 40.
If the Whitecaps were to lose both matches against Dallas and the Timbers, that would leave them 4 matches to pick up the points to overhaul Dallas (let’s say 4, to reach 41) as well as keep Portland in their rear view mirror. Those four games are at home to Colorado, Seattle and Chivas, and away to RSL. I’d back them to lose at RSL, so let’s narrow it down to three games. Colorado’s away record is abject, so the Whitecaps must pick up 3 there. Chivas aren’t the greatest travellers, but they can grind out a draw with the best/worst/most tedious of them. There’s the ‘Caps 4 points. Which leaves Seattle.
The Sounders are all over any faint play-off hopes the Timbers have. They play both Dallas and Vancouver, and there are two matches against the Timbers to come this year, beginning a week on Saturday when the Sounders return to Jeld-Wen Field.
If the Timbers are to have any hopes of turning the season around, they need other teams to help out and that means Seattle. I already have Seattle beating Dallas, and here I have them drawing with Vancouver. Sounders losses in both, or either, circumstance could put take the matter well out of Portland’s hands. It’s as uncomfortable as having a jaggy nettle thong riding up your sheugh to be in any way relying on them, but if the Timbers are to snaffle 5th place we’d need the Sounders to do their job.
So, by my very rough and ready reckoning, I have Dallas on 40 and Vancouver in 5th on 42. Not too far removed from the form table above. With Portland Timbers currently on 27 points, it’s still a five-win minimum required. [Or 4 and three draws - A Pedant]
What are the chances of the Timbers pulling it off?
Match 1 – @ Colorado
The Timbers just beat the Rapids, stringing together two wins for the first time in almost exactly a year. The Timbers haven’t yet won three-in-a-row in MLS, and are without a road win this year, but this is one they simply have to win. Draw or defeat here takes play-off talk that is already stretching credibility and shifts it towards Scientology-levels of couch-jumping batshittery. It’ll be a tough match, but the Timbers can do it. Win
Match 2 – vs Seattle
A win would not only propel them forward in the play-off hunt, it would secure the Cascadia Cup for 2012. A home match against your rivals doesn’t need any more hype, but if the Timbers can pull of a repeat of the earlier victory at Jeld-Wen then that would be 2 wins down, 3 to go. Win
Match 3 – @ San Jose
Ha. Well. Yeah. This is where things get tricky. The Earthquakes have been imperious at home with 6 wins in their last 7, and an unbeaten run of 12. They’ve managed to score 4 or more at home on 5 occasions so, even though the Timbers beat them earlier this season, I don’t think you’ll find many tipping them to leave Buck Shaw with so much as a point. Loss
Match 4 – @ RSL
We follow up arguably our toughest trip with another from Brick McShithouse’s Bumper Book of Hard Grounds. Though RSL haven’t hit the heights they have in previous years, it’s still not easy to pick up points there. Clean sheets in 3 of their last 5 matches indicate that any potential Timbers success there will have to be founded on an immense defensive performance. So, yeah, a point would be a good result here, but that’s not a win… Draw
Match 5 – vs DC
Back to Portland for the visit of DC United, and another must-win-if-there-is-even-the-slightest-of-slight-hopes match. DC don’t travel well – losing their last six road matches prior to their upcoming match against Philly – and have only won once in their last 6 trips to the West Coast, and that was last year. A draw here would be two points catastrophically dropped. Win
Match 6 – @ Seattle
Assuming the Timbers had won 3 of their last 5, and other results had favoured them, we would travel up the I-5 as Cascadia Cup champs and with a play-off spot firmly in our sights. You can bet your #GWOut two-stick that the Sounders would love nothing more than to be the team that killed that dream off. The usual derby clichés apply – “form out of the window” and so forth. The Sounders have the best home defence in the West and we ain’t exactly banging them in on the road. Dispassionately you could say a draw would be a good result, however nothing but victory will do in a match like this. Win/Draw
Match 7 – @ Vancouver
Another Cascadian battle, and one that I’ve already said could be decisive. With 3, potentially 4, wins till now, this could be hugely important in the chase for 5th place. I like how we match up against Vancouver, and if we had the kind of momentum behinds us that a play-off charge would bring, I’d fancy us to win here. Win
Match 8 – vs San Jose
The season ends with the visit of San Jose. There is a good chance that San Jose could have the conference title sewn up by the time they visit, but a potential push for the Supporters Shield will ensure a tough match as well as simply wanting to keep up momentum for the play-offs. Though the Earthquakes have lost three of their last four road matches, their overall records isn’t bad. I’d hate to go into this match needing a win, but as I said earlier, we have done it before. Draw/Loss
Clearly the chances of reaching the post-season are slim. They’d have to do something they haven’t done all year – win on the road – at least twice, but the last couple of road matches have shown signs that it’s not beyond believable that they could. Of course, this whole article could be moot, and the subject of retrospective amusement, over come Thursday morning, and it would remain that precarious all the way through the run-in where a single misstep would kill us off.
But then what is football without dreams, or without hope? Just a bunch of guys kicking a ball about a field. So I say screw that, the Timbers still have a dream, and for so long as cruel reality doesn’t kick me awake, so do I.
The featured image for this post is from Timbers Army.org