San Jose next test in Timbers’ playoffs push

Portland seeking late season momentum

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — The push for the postseason continues Wednesday as the Portland Timbers have another critical opportunity in their effort to secure a spot in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

After San Jose visits Jeld-Wen Field for a 7:30 p.m. contest, the Timbers will wrap up their inaugural MLS regular season by playing four of their final five matches on the road. So there is a playoff feel about this one.

“It’s almost as if we started our playoff run a little bit early here, because we had to go on a bit of a run to get ourselves in a good position,” Timbers defender Mike Chabala said.

Indeed, the Timbers have climbed into contention by posting three wins and a draw in their last four games.

They have posted three consecutive shutouts.

The play of left back Chabala and right back Lovel Palmer — who together came to Portland in a July trade with Houston — has been significant during the recent good run for Portland.

“The comfort level is growing. Three shutouts has shown that,” Chabala said. “I feel like we’re kind of solidifying a unit in the back, which makes the whole team a better cohesive unit.”

The improving comfort level among Chabala, Palmer, and teammates who have been around since February has helped solidify the defense, and the ability of Chabala and Palmer to push forward has added fuel to the offense.

In Friday’s frenetic first half against New England — which coach John Spencer described as his team’s best 45 minutes so far this season — Palmer and Chabala were involved in Portland’s two scoring plays.

“Getting forward is a big part of my game. When I don’t do that, I’m not half the player,” Chabala said.

One reason Chabala and Palmer were able to contribute to the attack Friday was the play of rookie Darlington Nagbe, Spencer said. Nagbe started alongside Kenny Cooper at forward because Jorge Perlaza was ill. He scored a key second-half goal, but equally significant was Nagbe’s ability to hold possession long enough to allow teammates to push forward and join the attack. Perlaza has recovered, but Spencer said Nagbe deserves another opportunity to start alongside Cooper.

The coach emphasized that, against San Jose, Nagbe and his teammates must match or exceed their performance from Friday’s 3-0 win over New England. The coach also wants more from his fullbacks.

“You can’t rest on your laurels,” Spencer said. “I want more from Mike (Chabala) and Lovel (Palmer), to be honest with you, both defensively and offensively.”

Among the most valuable lessons he learned in six seasons with the Houston Dynamo, Chabala said, is the significance of chemistry in team sports. He said Houston’s MLS Cup championship teams of 2006 and 2007 were the most cohesive team’s he’s played with at any level.

“Guys enjoyed hanging out with each other outside of the field. That was a big part of why there was success,” Chabala said. “I think if you look at most sports teams that are very successful, I guarantee you’ll find that the group as a whole is very unified, organized and collectively fond of each other.”

That bond, Chabala said, helped those Houston teams play their best soccer down the stretch and through the playoffs.

As a first-year MLS team with a lot of young players, Portland has plenty of work to do if it is to make the playoffs — never mind developing the magic those Houston teams enjoyed.

But Chabala said the Timbers are developing some positive energy at a critical time.

“It’s a cohesive unit and the energy that the guys have showed has been really impressive,” Chabala said.

Note

U.S. Women’s National Team: Wednesday’s training session for the U.S. Women’s National Team at Jeld-Wen Field is open to the public at no charge. Practice is scheduled to run noon to 1 p.m. The USA women play Canada in Portland at 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are on sale now through www.ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000 and at all Ticketmaster ticket centers throughout the Portland area, as well as at the box office.