Portland Timbers fans have waited awhile for the opportunity that arrives on Sunday.
Not because it has been 13 months since the Seattle Sounders set foot on Jeld-Wen Field.
Not because the Timbers have beaten the Sounders only once since joining Major League Soccer.
There are more significant reasons for Timbers’ supporters to be worked up.
A win and the Timbers jump ahead of the Sounders in the fight for the top spot in the Western Conference. A win and the Timbers are right in the mix of the sprint for the Supporters’ Shield as the team with the best regular season in MLS. This is a chance to almost lock up the first playoff berth in franchise history.
But those stakes won’t color the approach for the Timbers, coach Caleb Porter emphasized this week.
“We’ve been playing for the playoffs all year, because three points (for a win) are three points. You can get them early in the year. You can get them late in the year. You can get them in the middle of the year,” Porter said. “The reason we’re in the position we’re in is because we’ve played for three points every single game and we’ve tried to keep a businesslike approach in every single game.”
Jack Jewsbury said Porter made expectations clear from the start of training camp.
“Caleb came in and pretty early implemented his style and what he wanted from everyone on the field. I think that’s been a huge plus for us in terms of defining the roles for every single guy out there,” Jewsbury said. “Whether you were a center back or a center forward, it was pretty clear what your role was.”
One example of that is in the center of the defense, where despite early season injuries to starters Mikael Silvestre and David Horst the Timbers have been one of the more consistent defenses in the league. Their 33 goals against is second best in MLS. Most recently, the partnership between Gambians Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Pa Modou Kah has proven effective.
Kah and Danso have started the last three matches, consecutive shutout wins and last week’s 2-2 draw at Vancouver. With Clint Dempsey hungry for his first Sounders goal, and Seattle motivated to erase consecutive embarrassing losses, the Timbers defense figures to be tested.
Jewsbury, who has been at right back in those games, called the Kah-Danso pairing exceptional.
“Communication wise they’re on the same page,” Jewsbury said.” They hang out a lot on and off the field. I think that helps in these big games. Two big guys that are tough to beat, whether it’s in the air or on the ground.”
That sums up these Timbers. Playing to win is nice, but Portland is lurking around the top of the standings because it is the toughest team in the league to beat. The Timbers five losses are four fewer than the next closest team at MLS.
Playoff picture — With games against Seattle on Sunday and Real Salt Lake next Saturday to close out their home schedule, the Timbers (50 points) have a chance to vault themselves to the top of the Western Conference should they defeat both of the teams currently ahead of them. Lose both, and things might be dicey. San Jose, currently sixth, can finish with a maximum of 53 points. Vancouver can finish with 51 points. Then there is the race to finish in the top three and not play in the one-game playoff between the teams that finish fourth and fifth.