The Cascadia Cup has long been decided, Portland may not make the playoffs and their inaugural season may very well end as it began—with a pair of losses.
But on Saturday, the Timbers did something that can't be taken away no matter how the next three weeks go: Portland put the first dent in freshly-pimped BC Place.
The 500-strong traveling Timbers Army was clearly present on the ROOT Sports broadcast (Lethargic Whitecaps fans? Strategically placed ROOT Sports mics? Bit of both?) and along with the chant referencing Vancouver's slight overreaction to its NHL Finals defeat in June, the best fan-driven moment of the night came after Kenny Cooper's decisive 25th minute goal, when TA broke into "Our House (In the Middle of BC)" to the tune of Madness' 1982 classic.
Something tells me Portland got away from Canada with a crucial 1-0 victory and the first season sweep of Vancouver in 21 years (h/t and hearty welcome back to John Strong for that stat). Playing some of its best-quality soccer of the season, Portland responded with backs firmly against freshly-painted walls of the Whitecaps' renovated digs.
"It's a nice venue," said Timbers defender Eric Brunner. "But it's nice to send their fans home a little sad."
In fact, Portland felt so comfortable in the Vancouver locker room, the Timbers even brought their own decor.
Inspired by a locker-room sign quoting MLS' official power rankings for Portland last week ("That 2-0 loss at New York was a killer. That was their chance to take control of their own playoff destiny," it read) the Timbers had what coach John Spencer called, "one of our best performances on the road this season." No arguments here: Portland vanquished most any semblance of a Vancouver offense, holding star Eric Hassli to a single shot. And although the Whitecaps possessed more than 60 percent of the match, Portland did what it had to get three giant points.
Playoff teams don't win pretty every time out, and if Portland makes a last push for the postseason they're going to have to scrap. They did on Saturday, responding to Vancouver's physical play and rendering the Whitecaps' possession "harmless."
"It’s just one of those things where Vancouver is playing for everything right now because their jobs are at stake," said defender Mike Chabala. "It may not have been the prettiest soccer game, but it was effective."
Tied for 10th and final Major League Soccer playoff spot (though technically still on the outside looking in due to goal accumulation), the Timbers now head into an international break before hosting Houston (43 points) in a huge regular-season home finale. After that, it's two cross-country road matches in four days.
Will they once again make themselves at home?
More after the jump, including TA Chris Rifer's quick rundown of the five teams battling for the final two Wild Card spots, EXTRA TIME links and video highlights from the Timbers' second road win of the season.
As Rifer points out, the MLS Wild Card race is "basically in the same place" it was two weeks back:
—Houston looks to be in the best position on 43 points, three clear from the pack. Dynamo, however, only have two games remaining — at Portland and home against the Galaxy.
—New York sits on 40 points, in the final playoff spot on goal differential. They have three matches remaining — home with L.A., at Sporting K.C., and home with Philadelphia.
—Portland is tied with New York in points, but trails significantly on goal differential. The Timbers also have three fixtures left — home with Dynamo, at D.C. United, and at Real Salt Lake.
—D.C. United sit two points behind at 38, but have a game in hand and a favorable schedule. They travel to Vancouver on October 12, then come home to face Chicago and Portland on the 15th and 19th, respectively. Finally, D.C. finishes off with a visit from Sporting K.C.
—Finally, Chicago Fire are the newcomers to the playoff race, sitting at 37 points and coming off an improbable run of form over the last two weeks. The sledding isn’t easy for Chicago with a visit from F.C. Dallas, a trip to D.C., and a final home match against Columbus.
Realistically, Portland has to beat Houston to have a prayer. Putting the Timbers on 43 points won’t be enough, however. The Timbers at this point probably also need to at least share points with D.C., likely putting them on 44 points. With some help, that may be enough. To be certain, though, the Timbers need to find six points from the next three games.
EXTRA TIME! Links for a long layoff.
• Love the Cascadia Cup? Get ready for more, says The O's Geoffrey C. Arnold.
• Love the Timbers more than the Whitecaps? Be grateful, says Dropping Timber.
• Love high school soccer? You may soon hate the Timbers, notes The O's Steve Duin.
• Whitecaps keeper Joe Cannon said the Whitecaps "just need more heart." That'd be a start.
• The team didn't do the new stadium justice, says The Province's Marc Weber who has more on the fan experience and talks about changes for 2012.