- Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
- With forward Jorge Perlaza battling illness, could Portland coach John Spencer (left) step in and play up front tonight? No. But, the fiery skipper did show off his "nice try, bud" face on Thursday when the Timbers front office took a squad of Adidas employees to a "competitive" 4-4 charity-match draw.
Three points for PTFC:
1. The Timbers must beat New England tonight—just ask 'em. With seven matches remaining on their regular-season schedule, Major League Soccer's most prolific home side will need maximum points if they hope to extend their inaugural campaign into the playoffs. Unbeaten in three straight, Portland sits one point out of a postseason position as it returns to the House of Pane for the first time in three weeks for tonight's crucial clash with the Revolution (8 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel, 750 AM, 101.1 FM).
2. The Timbers should beat New England tonight. Portland knows exactly what's required to reward their spirited supporters with a late-season run: "We’re all incredibly hungry to get into the playoffs," said forward Kenny Cooper. "We know our fans deserve it and we definitely want to do that for them." Standing in the Timbers' way is a Revolution club riding a hot streak (by their standards) after a surprise 2-0 win over FC Dallas. Still, Portland has much more to play for, and with a self-diagnosed "magic number" of 10 hovering above the pitch, the chance to leap into a tie for 8th place overall should be more than enough motivation to start fast and run circles around the Revolution.
3. The Timbers can beat New England tonight. It's been nearly six months, but Portland's first taste of MLS success came against this very opponent, when the upstart Timbers showed they'd made serious early-season strides and displayed glimpses of the club that would soon capture the Rose City's imagination and grab five straight home wins. Can Portland make another leap this evening, and send out a nationally-televised signal that they're ready—and able—to make a run at playing in late October?
Dust off those those three-goggles, Portland fans—anything less than a trifecta may finally tell us this team isn't there yet. Portland must, should and can win tonight, despite a few lineup shifts to deal with: An injury to David Horst may mean Futty Danso will get the start at center back, but the real intrigue will play out up front, where Perlaza is a question mark after missing much of practice this week with a virus that kept him quarantined from his 'mates. Expect some combination of Darlington Nagbe, Bright Dike and Brian Umony to replace the speedy Colombian, with perhaps a touch of the ever-swift Sal Zizzo up front.
I'm certain most Timber fans would love to see Nagbe—a former college forward and Portland's first-ever SuperDraft pick—move to the striker spot, though the 21-year-old has seen just 18 minutes of action over the past three matches after catching a touch of tired-leg syndrome. Still, Nagbe's one of the most exciting young players in MLS, and it might loosen everyone up a bit if he has free reign on the front line.
Off the field, things may be a bit tighter, however, as the team experiments with an increased capacity of 20,323 (just less than 2,000 more than normal sellouts) for tonight's match (which, BTW, I'll be live-blogging—check back later!).
Should they win, cramped quarters won't matter one bit. Only those three points will.