DC United is far too good a footy team to be overlooked, so let's go ahead and do just that.
Mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings and all but officially eliminated from playoff contention, your Timbers are eight days away from the only match left that matters to Portland—the deciding tilt of the Cascadia Cup in Seattle. That game could define this season and set the tone for next, when new head coach Caleb Porter takes the reins and turns the page on what's been a disappointing second Major League Soccer campaign for the Rose City.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably, but with tonight's match being framed as a tryout for both next Sunday and next season—the stakes, according to Portland GM/interim coach Gavin Wilkinson, are no less than "self-preservation and personal pride and [players'] personal integrity"—forgive me for being forward-thinking. I'm certainly not the only one.
"We're playing for our livelihood and we're playing for contracts," Timbers defender David Horst said this week. "You have to kill yourself for every game. Guys realize that."
UPDATE: The Timbers fought back from a controversial handball call and stay (mathematically) alive in the playoff race for at least another week with a 1-1 draw. Bright Dike continued his hot streak with an equalizing strike in the 79th, and Portland held on to earn the point.
"They didn't sink into the game, they didn't sit back and feel sorry for themselves, they responded positively," Wilkinson said. "Especially where we're at in the table right now, to have that sense of pride and to have that urgency to come back from behind is very important."
Click past the jump for a full match log, plus more locker-room reaction and FULL VIDEO of Wilkinson's post-match presser.
The Timbers' playoff hopes are toast. But for science, here's how the Timbers can officially be eliminated tonight from postseason contention:
—Portland loses AND Vancouver beats or ties Seattle
—Portland loses AND Dallas beats San Jose
—Portland ties AND Vancouver beats Seattle
On the other side of the country, DC has solidified itself as a legit Cup contender despite the loss of 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario to a season ending injury earlier this month. They've won three straight since to vault within three points of the Eastern Conference's No. 2 spot, making this one—on paper at least—look like a gimme.
DC (15-10-5, 50 pts)—Bill Hamid in goal. Dejan Jakovic, Chris Korb and Brandon McDonald on defense. Perry Kitchen, Marcelo Saragosa, Lewis Neal and Nick DeLeon at midfield. Andy Najar on defense. Chris Pontius and Lionard Pajoy at forward. Pontius is the captain and the United are sporting black shorts and white blouses.
Portland (7-15-8, 29 pts)—Joe Bendik in goal. Kosuke Kimura, Rodney Wallace, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst and Steven Smith on defense. Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Franck Songo'o and Sal Zizzo at midfield. Bright Dike up front. Jewsbury is the Cap'n and Portland is wearing green jerseys and white shorts.
On the bench for Portland: Danny Mwanga, Eric Alexander, Eric Brunner, Brent Richards, Futty Danso, Mike Fucito and Jake Gleeson.
Timbers Army chanting, "You're shit, you're white, you're gonna lose tonight" pregame.
FIRST HALF: And away we go ... the Timbers will work toward the South end to start this one.
1st minute—DC immediately knocks a long ball into the box that Bendik comes out for. Can't blame them for forcing the young keeper into a decision early, however routine.
3rd—Pontius is ridden down just outside the 18-yard box and it'll be a dangerous free kick for United.
4th—Pontius sends it far-post for Pajoy, but his header is soft and over the goal line. No worries for Bendik, but DC possessing well early here.
6th—Timbers looking a bit disorganized at midfield—no surprise with Chara on the sideline. Long ball sent in to Pajoy, who beats Kimura to the ball. Kosuke recovers and knocks it over the goal line for a DC corner.
7th—Corner comes in long and is sent back into the box for Pontius. He leaves it back for Pajoy, who gets under his shot and sends it flying into the North End crowd for a Timbers goal kick.
9th—Nagbe looks for Wallace, but Kitchen picks him off near midfield. That's one Akron Zip ripping another. DC dominating possession thus far and Portland not exactly pressuring their guests.
12th—Timbers with a bit more possession, but they can't get it anywhere dangerous just yet. DC brings it down and Kimura and DeLeon battle in the Northwest corner, and it'll be a goal kick for Portland.
13th—Dike takes down Pontius and it'll be a free kick from just inside the midfield line. It's sent in and Korb gets a head on it, but it's well over the crossbar.
15th—Wallace steps up for a steal and a nice run. He finds Nagbe in the box, and after a twirl, Darlington shoots just wide of goal. Portland's best chance of the night there.
17th—DC earns a corner after Najar deflects one off Smith's side. It's sent way far post to Korb, who tries to sneak it in but earns another corner. Fans don't like the call because it came from the ref on the other side of the pitch, but it's the right call. Corner sent in low and fast and Mosquera with a strong header to knock it away.
18th—Zizzo a run down the sideline and after it's knocked out, a quick throw to Dike. It's mis-hit and sails wide left, but gets Hamid to dive to his right. Another decent chance, but not a lot of sustained offense for Portland to this point.
19th—DC on the break and Pontius has a clear path to Bendik. But Horst comes in for a beautiful sliding tackle to steal it away and clear. Fantastic play from the big central defender there. That could've easily been the first score of the match, but Horst denies it.
22nd—Another DC corner coming after Nagbe knocks it over the line on a deflection. Mosquera taking a knee at the top of the 18, but it appears he's OK. Corner sent in to the far corner and Horst is there to head it away.
23rd—Mosquera goes to the turf and here comes the training staff. He's limping off the pitch and now is headed back to the locker room. Futty warming up for Portland, but they'll play a man down.
24th—Wallace picks up a yellow card for a hard tackle near midfield. Futty comes on for Portland, and it looks like Mosquera's night is done.
25th—DC tests Futty right away with a long ball into the box for Pajoy. But Bendik is there and it'll be a Portland free kick. Wallace called for another foul just over the midfield line, and we'll have a free kick for DC.
27th—Timbers giving DC a bit too much possession in the North End. United with a couple passes within the box and after a Smith header, Pajoy tries to volley one from the top of the box. He whiffs and Timbers Army breathes a sigh of relief. Too many open looks for their liking.
28th—On the counter, Songo'o cracks one from the top of the box and brings Hamid to the turf. Timbers maintain possession and Zizzo sends one in for Dike, but it's nearly knocked in by Jakovic right in front. Almost an own-goal, and Portland appears to be picking things up.
29th—Dike gets one to Songo'o at the top of the 18, but Franck hesitates a bit and can't get a clean shot off. Portland really pressuring DC now with the ever-active Zizzo.
30th—Jakovic plays one back to Hamid, and he can't control it. It bounds off his foot and it'll be the first corner of the night for Portland.
31st—Header is sent in low and DeLeon heads it away easily. Timbers get it back and Zizzo plays one to himself and tries to flick one, but Hamid is there to nab it. Momentum is firmly on Portland's side as the pace of the game stays hectic.
34th—Timbers earn a free kick after Dike is chopped down just inside midfield. Jewsbury sends it in for Futty, but it stays up and Hamid skies to grab it.
35th—Dike with some nice footwork on the East sideline to beat Jakovic and get into the box. He leaves it back for Wallace, but it's taken away. On the counter, Pajoy ends up with it in the box and gets around Kimura, but his shot it wide right and over the goal line.
38th—Songo'o and Kitchen get into a bit after Kitchen comes in a bit hot on Songo'o. Franck stands over him and Kitchen stands up and gives Songo'o a shove, but play continues.
40th—Korb with a terrible back pass that goes right to Dike in front. He makes a move and fires a shot from point-blank range, but it's wide. Dike didn't quite catch all of it, and probably wishes he'd put it on-frame at the very least. Almost a gift for Portland there.
44th—Timbers with a corner and Jewsbury floats one into the box. It's knocked away for a moment, but Nagbe ends up with it in the corner of the box after it catches the ref. He takes a step and fires, and Hamid nearly lets it in on a deflection. The ball bounces off his hands and spins high, but Hamid is there to grab it. Crazy sequence and Portland nearly gets one before the half.
HALFTIME: We're scoreless. DC dominates the start, but Portland turns it on a bit midway through and gets the majority of legit scoring chances to close out the half.
Some stats: DC with 53% of the possession, but Portland wins 58% of duels. Timbers out-shoot United 7-6 and had three shots on target to DC's zero. Six fouls each.
SECOND HALF: And we're back at it ... Timbers headed toward their Army for the second half.
46th—Kitchen draws a foul on Jewsbury just outside the 18 in the far corner. Similar to the free kick that started the first half. Ball served in low and headed away by Songo'o.
47th—Word is Mosquera suffered a right-hamstring strain.
48th—DC earns a free kick after Saragosa is tripped up by Nagbe. United controlling in the early going. Neal sends one in low and it's knocked away. That springs Songo'o, who is taken down from behind near midfield for a Portland free kick.
50th—Zizzo puts one into the box for Songo'o, who fires one high and into the Army. Play was set up by a run from Horst, who's been very active tonight.
52nd—Pontius gets clear and plays one ahead to Pajoy. He gets around Futty, but Bendik with a great read to come out and grab it before anything too dangerous goes down. Some frantic, somewhat sloppy soccer in the early going of this half as each team is trying to establish themselves. Not exactly pretty.
55th—DeLeon cracks one from about 40 yards, but it's well over the crossbar. Goal kick coming for Portland. Who will establish rhythm first?
57th—DeLeon with another shot from distance, and Bendik goes low to knock it over the goal line. Way too much time for DeLeon, who's showed he's not afraid to give it a ride. Corner comes in quick and Portland clears.
58th—Pontius beats Smith to the ball on the West sideline and makes his way into the box. Futty is forced to defend it over the line for a DC corner. It's sent in and the refs award DC a penalty kick after the ball supposedly is deflected off Horst's arm. Horst is pissed (rage face!) and is right up in the ref's grill, with Jewsbury holding him back. Futty joins in on the conversation to earn a yellow, and the crowd is raining boos on the pitch.
60th—UNITED GOAL Pontius slams the PK past a diving Bendik, and it's a 1-0 lead for DC. Fans are going nuts, and chants of "Bullshit!" have begun.
63rd—Songo'o frees up Dike at the top of the box and Bright gets a bit of room to roam. But Jakovic comes in with a nice defensive play to rip it away.
65th—Pajoy gets behind everyone and someone is not called offside. Horst comes flying in and makes another goal-saving tackle right in front. Bendik cleans it up and keeps the ball on the field of play and Horst clears. What a play by Horst there. On the counter, Timbers earn a corner.
66th—Jewsbury sends it in for a leaping Futty, but his header is just over the bar.
67th—Wallace with some nice hustle to keep the ball in play and earn a Timbers corner kick from nothing. Jewsbury sends it in and it's headed out to the foot of Zizzo. He takes a swing and it's well wide. Goal kick DC.
70th—Kimura gets around Neal in the Northeast corner and centers for Dike, but Hamid is there to cut it off. As Hamid goes to punt, Songo'o gets his foot in the way and knocks the ball over his head. That's not allowed, so it'll be a yellow card for Songo'o. Twenty minutes left, and this game is getting pretty damn chippy.
72nd—TA chanting "You're so shitty it's unbelievable!" I believe they're directing that chant toward the officials.
73rd—Timbers with a bit of possession in DC's end, but can't quite find the handle to set up a shot. Ball is deflected high and Hamid goes up for it with Songo'o giving chase. Hamid dives and hits his head hard on the pitch. He looks a bit woozy and throws the ball out. Training staff coming over to give him a concussion test. He'll stay in, but Hamid will have a headache tonight.
76th—Timbers earn a corner after Songo'o tries to cross left-footed. It's played back to Smith, but he can't quite get it into the box. DC on the counter and they'll set up shop in Portland's end. Way too much space and DC will have a corner after a Pajoy shot attempt is deflected out. Lots of hands on hips for Portland.
77th—Corner is sent in and headed away by Futty, but right at DeLeon. He tries to chip one in, but it lands on top of the goal. Goal kick coming for Bendik.
79th—TIMBERS GOAL Dike scores from what looked like an impossible angle. Nagbe springs Smith down the line, who crosses in front. It's knocked down by a sliding DC defender, but Dike is there to absolutely blister it from 5 yards away near-post for the goal. A crazy angle to shoot from, and Dike nails it. We're tied 1-1.
81st—Danny Mwanga checking in for Kimura. A forward for a defender. Timbers are going for it.
82nd—DC sub: Hamdi Salihi checks in for Pajoy.
83rd—Timbers are picking up the pace. Smith sends one in from the Northwest corner, but it's a bit too high for a leaping Dike. He got way up in the air and was undercut by a DC defender. He'll take a second to get up, but looks to be OK.
84th—Another DC sub: Branko Boskovic is on for Neal.
86th—Timbers will have a free kick after Wallace's hustle on a steal amps up the pressure and Smith deflects it off a DC defender.
86th—Jewsbury sends it in far-post, and Futty heads it down. Songo'o gets a boot on it from less than five yards out, but his shot pops over the bar. A great angle there for Songo'o, but it came after a quick touch and he can't convert.
87th—Songo'o sends a curler in from 30 yards out, but it bounces right into Hamid's chest. That one had some pace on it, though.
89th—Korb with a nice run and makes his way into the 18. He crosses, but it's just behind Boskovic. Nice opportunity for DC, who now works to slow this one down.
90th—Dike and Neal battle all the way down to the North End and muscles his way to a Timbers corner.
Four minutes of stoppage ... Jewsbury sends it in, but it's too tall for Dike. Ball bounds out to Zizzo, but his chip attempt flutters over the bar ... DC brings on Robbie Russell for DeLeon ... Wallace with a sliding steal near midfield and gets it to Zizzo. He makes his way down the sideline, but Korb with a wonderful tackle to take it away. Timbers get it back and Songo'o lines one up from 25 yards, but it's wide left. .... For Portland, Brent Richards comes on for Zizzo ... DC taking its time with possession. One last chance for Portland as Nagbe makes a steal, but DC gets it right back.
FULL TIME: It's a 1-1 draw. The Timbers stay mathematically alive in the playoff hunt with an equalizer from Dike after a controversial penalty-kick call. I haven't seen a replay, but it appears Portland got hosed on that handball—a notion that was certainly the talk of the postgame.
"I really don't know what to say," said Wilkinson. "I gotta be careful 'cause I'll get fined again."
Speaking of, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson might be hearing from the league after he ran over and let the refs have it on their way off the pitch. Fans may love his passion, but something tells me the MLS brass will love his fine even more.
Still, despite the setback, Portland responded well, or as Wilkinson put it: "I think they were more pissed off than annoyed."
Horst, who was called for the phantom handball agreed, but noted the Timbers channeled the anger.
"It got the guys fired up a bit," he said. "We got after them even more."
Dike said the call motivated the team to "fight back [against] what was done to [them]" and that they wouldn't need any such spurring next Sunday, when they travel to Seattle hoping to bring back the Cascadia Cup.
"I'm always ready for that game," Dike said. "I don't need any help getting any motivation for that game."
Wilkinson's post-match presser: