While the Portland Timbers are on the verge of securing the first MLS playoff berth in franchise history, coach Caleb Porter insists that just reaching the postseason isn’t good enough.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are only hoping it isn’t too late for them to make a run at a playoff spot.
The surging Timbers continue their chase for the Supporters’ Shield on Sunday night when they look to extend their unbeaten streak against the Cascadia Cup rival Whitecaps.
In search of its first postseason trip since joining the league in 2011, Portland (12-5-13) has gone 3-0-1 in its last four games to move into third place in the Western Conference.
The Timbers are coming off a 1-0 victory over two-time defending champion Los Angeles last Sunday. League MVP candidate Diego Valeri had his three-game goal-scoring streak snapped, but Maximiliano Urruti - acquired Sept. 9 from Toronto - notched his first MLS goal.
Now the Timbers have an opportunity to solidify their hold on one of the West’s top three spots, which is crucial considering those clubs avoid the single-elimination round. Besides being close to officially clinching its first playoff berth, Portland has climbed within striking distance of the league’s best record with four matches remaining.
“It is nice to know that we’re in a good position right now, but we still have work to do,” Porter said. “We still have to take care of business if we want a chance at the Supporters’ Shield.”
The Timbers aren’t far behind Seattle and Real Salt Lake - the only teams ahead of them in the West - and will host each of them in the next two weeks before wrapping up the regular season at conference-worst Chivas USA.
Although Portland has never lost to the Whitecaps (11-11-8) in MLS competition with a 4-0-3 record, the teams battled to draws in two meetings this season. The Timbers’ Jose Valencia scored in the 84th minute to forge a 2-all tie in Vancouver on May 18, then the Whitecaps’ Jordan Harvey had a late game-tying goal in a 1-all draw in Portland on Aug. 3.
The Timbers are hoping to end a lengthy road slump, having totaled six goals while going 0-4-4 away from home since winning at D.C. on May 25.
They’ll try to get it done against a Vancouver team riding a season-worst three-game winless streak at home (0-2-1).
The Whitecaps, coming off last Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to Real Salt Lake, are in desperate need of a victory. They’ve gone 2-6-3 overall since July 20 to fall out of the West playoff picture.
“We’ve now put ourselves in a difficult spot as we go forward,” coach Martin Rennie told the team’s official website. “But we’ve still got plenty of time to get the wins that we need.”
Rennie’s club could receive a boost from the return of striker Kenny Miller (adductor tightness), though centre back Brad Rusin (ankle sprain) and striker Omar Salgado (foot fracture) have been ruled out.
Camilo, third in the league with 16 goals, has a goal and two assists against the Timbers this season. He’s scored in only one of the Whitecaps’ last seven games, and that’s the only one in that span which they won.
He’ll face a hot goalkeeper in Donovan Ricketts, who has posted back-to-back clean sheets and ranks among the MLS leaders with 11.