A super-busy August will determine whether the Portland Timbers are still playing ball in November. Postseason push? P-Town could sure use a nudge, and with 15 Major League Soccer matches remaining—seven(!) of those next month—the time to win is now for PTFC.
"I think we all know the importance of the game," said Timbers coach John Spencer after Friday's training session. "We all want to get into the playoffs. The games are ticking down. Points are dwindling away."
Sure, nobody's technically eliminated from anything should the Timbers fall to Eastern Conference cellar-dweller Toronto FC at 8 p.m. tonight (ROOT Sports, 750 AM, 101.1 FM), but not nabbing victory could certainly bring about some loss of hope for Portland and its faithful. The Timbers (6-10-3) are winless in eight of their last nine and haven't taken an MLS match at Jeld-Wen Field since May 21, when the world didn't end but that intoxicating can't-lose feeling was in its last throes around the Rose City.
"It's huge," said Capt. Jack Jewsbury, fresh off his All-Star experience, after Friday's practice. "We've said that the past three or four (matches). We need to pick up some wins and get ourselves back in the mix."
So can the Timbers turn things around? With lowly Toronto in town, tonight's match has both the ability to be the start of something positive or the signal that Portland's playoff potential is all but finished. Yes, Toronto beat Portland 2-0 way back in March (when "the better team" lost), but the Reds (3-11-9) haven't done much since, other than blow up their entire roster and bring in two designated players in an attempt to avoid Canada's iron-grip on last place in each conference.
Still, Toronto has lost four straight for the first time since their inaugural 2007 campaign, and recently labored through a 356-minute scoreless streak before netting a pair in a 4-2 loss at Sporting KC last week. Portland's newfound aggression (displayed with a season-high 18 shots last week at Columbus) ought to find at least some success against the Toronto D, and with newcomers Lovel Palmer and Mike Chabala now wearing green, the entire Timbers defense better be on top of its game with minutes at a premium.
Once a fortress, the House of Pane hasn't witnessed an MLS win in more than two months, and tonight will tell whether Tuesday's exhibition 2-0 win over Independiente signaled a sea change in the Portland locker room.
If it didn't, Timbers Army may be forced to learn a new chant: "Wait 'til next year."
More after the jump (and *LIVE-BLOGGING* later), including video of Spencer holding court with media after Friday's practice and EXTRA TIME links to give you the lowdown on Hogtown before tonight's first kick.
Spencer talks about how the team looked in training this week, how new additions Palmer and Chalaba are meshing with the squad, the club's sense of urgency, the pressure of getting back on a winning track at J-WF and thoughts on the MLS All-Star game format.
EXTRA TIME! Links, eh?
• The Timbers and Spencer—"as harsh and smoky as a straight shot of Johnny Walker"—can't be counted out of a playoff push just yet, says The Trib's Stephen Alexander.
• The Timbers "aren't expecting to breeze past" re-configured Toronto, says The O's Jamie Goldberg, who points out which (new) players to watch from each side.
• Darlington Nagbe captured the moment when he popped the question to fiance Felicia Houtz on Thursday at Council Crest Park.
• How will Toronto's newest signings play into the match? Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy asks those questions and more of his SB Nation counterpart, while pointing out "now's the chance to turn the season around."
• All signs point to "a wide-open affair" tonight, says Kurtis Larson of the Toronto Sun.
• Be weary of Torsten "Satan" Frings, says Bob Kellett of The Offside, who notes a win tonight could key a "month of possibilities" in August.
• Defender Steve Purdy is the Timber "most likely to feel the effects of the two new faces" Palmer and Chabala, says Timbers Insider Kelly McLain.
• Former Oregon State star Ryan Johnson and Toronto "have to take care of Portland" before thinking about their CONCACAF match in Nicaragua on Tuesday.
• While the Timbers work to improve on the field, their fans are working on improving pitches around Portland: Operation Pitch Invasion and AC Portland highlight O-Live blogger Kip Kesgard's community rundown.
• Timbers voice John Strong offers his notes, the Timbers' smarty phone department offers an app and the team's official site offers a match-up to watch.