The playoffs have arrived.
At least that is the way Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter sees Saturday’s match at Chivas USA.
“I look at this really as part of the playoffs,” Porter said on Friday before the team flew to Los Angeles. “We have six games, if things go well, to win an MLS Cup trophy. I look at this as an extension of the playoffs, because if you win this game, you chop off a game in the playoffs.”
A win in the StubHub Center — something the Timbers have yet to accomplish — would simplify things for Portland. If both Kansas City and New York stumble over the weekend, a victory over Chivas would make the Timbers the regular-season Major League Soccer champions.
At the very least, a win at Chivas would guarantee that Portland is the top seed in the Western Conference. Nice as that would be, a draw would be enough for Portland to clear the significant hurdle of having to play an elimination match at midweek.
So if the match at Chivas is tied late into the second half, Porter will face a decision about how aggressive to be pushing for a game-winning goal.
“We’ve never shut down. We’ve always gone for the win,” Porter said. “Obviously you’re not going to gamble and risk so much that you lose the game, but we’re going for three points. We’ve gone for three points 90 minutes every game.”
Porter expects to have Diego Valeri in the starting lineup. The coach said that the Argentine midfielder had his best week of practice since suffering an adductor strain in August. Porter also said Valeri — who has not played a full match since Aug. 25 — needs to regain his rhythm with his teammates.
Porter said he doesn’t expect any surprises from a Chivas team that is on a four-game losing streak and will finish at the bottom of the Western Conference regardless of this result. The Timbers coach, though, would be surprised if his team turns in a lackluster first half like it did on Sept. 14 in a 1-1 draw at Chivas USA.
“We didn’t like the way we played, we weren’t happy with it and we made some changes,” Porter said. “We’ve been much better starting games. Our mentality’s been right every single game since then.”
Which adds a little extra drive to an already meaningful trip to Los Angeles. Porter called it a great opportunity to come full circle.
“(A win) would be a fitting way to close the season, to get a good result there,” Porter said.
Other games to watch:
• Sporting Kansas City at Philadelphia, noon Saturday (NBCSN). A Sporting win would eliminate the Timbers from Supporters’ Shield contention. A draw or a Philadelphia win keeps the Timbers in the mix for the best overall record.
• Chicago at New York, 2 p.m. Sunday (available in Spanish on Univision Desportes on Dish and Direct TV). If Portland wins and Kansas City does not win on Saturday, then a Chicago win over New York on Sunday would make Portland the Supporters’ Shield champion.
• Colorado at Vancouver, 5 p.m. Sunday (no TV). If Portland loses at Chivas, Colorado would finish ahead of Portland with a win.
• Los Angeles at Seattle, 6 p.m. Sunday (ESPN). If Portland loses at Chivas, this match likely determines Portland’s first playoff opponent. A draw in this match prevents either Seattle or L.A. from finishing ahead of the Timbers. But a winner between the Sounders and Galaxy would leapfrog the Timbers if Chivas beats Portland on Saturday.
If Portland falls to fourth place, the Timbers will host an elimination match on Wednesday or Thursday. If Portland finishes third, it will likely host the first leg of the conference semifinals next weekend. If Portland finishes second or higher, it likely would begin the playoffs with a road game next weekend.