Timbers hope the grind can pay off

Portland chasing playoffs, but faces tricky opponent

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — Grinding out results in Major League Soccer often is more the result of grit than the result of great play.

That is one lesson the young Portland Timbers seem to have learned in recent weeks, when consecutive shutouts have helped the team hang in the playoff chase.

“I think we’re realizing it’s going to be gritty and grindy,” said central defender Eric Brunner, explaining a significant difference in Portland’s play of late. “It’s about weathering that storm. I think we’re just maturing over the course of the season.”

The grind continues with an important home game on Friday against the New England Revolution — a team outside the playoff chase, but with a dangerous attack that figures to test the Portland defense.

“We might have a rough patch (during a match), but we’re weathering it, and then being able to string our own passes together,” Brunner said.

Such composure is a result of the comfort that develops as players become familiar with — and confident in — their teammates. In his third MLS season, Brunner has been a mainstay in the middle of Portland’s defense. Only team captain Jack Jewsbury has logged more minutes than Brunner, who has already played the most minutes of his career.

The other central defender spot has been a revolving door because of injuries. David Horst’s play has been a significant part of the recent success, but Horst might not be available against New England because of a groin injury.

He did practice on Thursday, and coach John Spencer said Horst’s status against New England will be determined by how the injury responds to that training work.

If Horst cannot go, expect Mamadou “Futty” Danso to return from his hamstring injury to play alongside Brunner.

Brunner said he is comfortable playing alongside any of his teammates.

“I know what they expect of me, and they know what to expect from me,” he said.

Brunner missed a few minutes of last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Philadelphia to get a cut above his eye stitched up. He said he was thankful the knock to the head didn’t produce any concussion symptoms. He didn’t have any concerns about returning to that match and battling for every ball.

The playoff chase offers plenty of motivation to forget about the physical pains that develop during a long season.

“Our fate’s in our own hands and that’s a great position to be in,” Brunner said. “If we string together results, we’re going to push ourselves into the playoffs. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.”

• Playoff number? Timbers Spencer said he believes his team will qualify for the playoffs if it gets 10 points from its remaining seven matches. The easiest way to accomplish that would be to win the three home matches for nine points.