We're LIVE at Jeld-
WetWen Field, where I've taken the pulse of the press box.
I polled 25 media types—journos, bloggers and PTFC staff alike—with a simple question: Will the Timbers make the playoffs in 2013?
The results were nearly unanimous: 24 yay, 1 nay.
But is Portland's postseason forecast as clear as the skies aren't today? With five matches left to play, the press box certainly believes so. And should the Timbers claim victory today in a matinee against the Galaxy, they might even convert that last guy. Ah, but such a task could prove tricky against the two-time defending MLS Cup champions rounding into good health and playoff form.
Landon Donovan returns to the starting lineup for Los Angeles after being nagged/sidelined by a sprained ankle for two weeks. Paired with MVP frontrunner Robbie Keane up front, Donovan and the Galaxy are the toughest team in the league when, as Timbers coach Caleb Porter put it this week, "they turn it up and they have everybody healthy."
Speaking of, Portland should be fairly fresh after a playoff-push-commencing 1-0 win vs. Colorado here last week. Unbeaten in 12 straight at home, the Timbers have picked up their share of points on LA this season, beating the Galaxy in July and rocking a scoreless road draw in June. Like they have twice before, knowing when to push ahead and when to lock it down against one of the top countering clubs in the league will be key.
Said Timbers Capt. Will Johnson: "We just have to predict bad things are going to happen." Unlike the press box.
So ride the landslide and click past the jump, as I deftly describe the action—on and off the pitch.
Los Angeles (13-6-10, 45 points)—Jaime Penedo in goal. Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Kofi Opare and Todd Dunivant on defense. Hector Jimenez, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas and Gyasi Zardes at midfield. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane up front.
Rounding out the 18: Brian Rowe; Tommy Meyer; Rafael Garcia, Laurent Courtois, Pablo Mastroeni, Michael Stephens and Jose Villarreal.
Portland (11-5-13, 46 points)—Donovan Ricketts in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Kah and Michael Harrington on defense. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Will Johnson at midfield. Darlington Nagbe, Max Urruti and Rodney Wallace.
Rounding out the 18: Milos Kocic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Alvas Powell, Kalif Alhassan, Ben Zemanski, Ryan Johnson, Jose Valencia.
PREGAME: About 70 minutes prior to our first kick, a couple of Galaxy players wandered onto the field to take in the sights/get slightly damp. An already-filling-in Timbers Army greeted them with a chant: "GET THAT SHIT! / OFF THE PITCH!" Cute.
Equally stout boos from TA for both Donovan and Keane, who are just two of the stars among Los Galacticos. Defensive cornerstone Gonzalez is as solid as they come, and free-kick specialist Juninho finally opened his account last week.
The Timbers are sporting their third kits—all white with the green collars—while LA is going with blue shorts and blue blouses. The rain is falling and JW-F is feeling pretty electric, folks.
FIRST HALF: Timbers headed toward the South end. Here we go!
1st minute—Timbers play it back to start and Futty drives one down the east sideline. Throw comes in for Wallace who attempts a cross for Urruti, but it's bicy-cleared by Juninho. As it makes its way to the west sideline, Futty and Jewsbury collide as both go for a header. Futty might've gotten the worst of it and has a quick word with Cap'n Jack.
3rd—Urruti tumbles to the pitch for the first time of the match as he's dispossessed. Likely not his last time on the ground today...Sarvas looks to Ricketts with a shot from 45 yards out, but his attempt goes into the first row above the big TIMBERS ARMY banner.
6th—Nagbe gives it away at midfield and Zardes is on his horse. He rushes forward and fires a shot that Ricketts is forced to dive to his right for. He doesn't quite field it cleanly, but nothing doing for LA.
9th—Futty plays one ahead to Valeri, and he's called offside on a late flag. Borderline call there, but no argument from Valeri.
12th—Valeri plays one to the middle of the field for Urruti, who goes down in a heap grabbing his knee. He's right back up though, proving miracles do happen. LA clears but it goes back to Portland, who attempts a long ball ahead to Chara before be goes to the turf after backing into Gonzalez.
13th—A little danger by Portland from the right flank. Nagbe plays it in for Valeri, who knocks it back for Chara. He's a little slow to find the handle, and the Galaxy clear. Portland working their possession well early, and LA is hunkering down.
16th—Harrington kicks one off Will Johnson's face but they're teammates so it's cool.
18th—Donovan ahead to Zardes, who one-touches it right back for Donovan. He then one-touches to Keane, but it's a tad strong and Keane can't catch up to it. Best look so far for LA—that might be a goal on a drier July day.
21st—Jewsbury with a giveaway and Donovan has it on the run. He makes his way into the box, but Futty and Chara recover double-team Donovan and force a clearance by Jewsbury. That could've been a disaster for Portland, but they recover just well enough to thwart Donovan.
23rd—Timbers called offside for the third time in the match. Nagbe has a takeaway at midfield that leads to a throw-in and a Urruti stuntman roll into the box.
25th—Urruti appears to get loose and fires a shot from 35 yards out, but he's again called offside. Set up by a poor touch from Gonzalez, which is rare enough to mention. Fourth offside call against Portland.
27th—LA was a foot away from scoring on there. Great buildup involving Donovan and Keane, which leads to a blast from Sarvas outside the box. Ricketts didn't even see it, based on his reaction. The ref says it was deflected, so the first corner of the day goes to LA.
28th—Ball is spun near-post, but Ricketts dives ahead to punch it away. LA maintains possession, but Portland withstands the pressure and clears.
31st—LA with a little buildup, but a quick pass attempt into the box by Keane rolls too far and ends up in the arms of Ricketts.
32nd—Now Portland with some possession in the attacking third. Nagbe dribbles it ahead and after some one-touch passing, Harrington looks to Urruti for a cross, but LA clears. The Galaxy counters and Zardes does well to beat his defender and fire one, but Ricketts dives for the save. He can't collect the wet ball, and Jewsbury blasts it over the line for a corner.
33rd—Donovan sends in the corner, after after a bit of LA possession, Portland again gets through a set-piece situation and clears.
35th—Johnson leveled from behind by Sarvas, who picks up the match's first yellow card.
36th—Timbers with some build-up in LA's end and Valeri tries a cross that's cleared by Gonzalez for a moment. Chara plays it to Jewsbury, who unleashes a wicked bender-that-might've-been-a-cross that end ends up just past the upper V.
37th—Timbers nearly net one as Valeri blasts a shot that sends Penedo diving, then sitting up to kiss his glove. Nice buildup again for Portland, who appear to be poking holes in the LA defense as the first half winds down.
38th—Juninho with a blast from 35 yards out, but it's well wide of the frame. Goal kick, Portland.
40th—Zardes with another run down the west side and looks to cross, but Jewsbury slides to knock it over the line. Corner comes in is flicked on into A DANGEROUS SPOT, but Zardes is called for a foul on Futty.
41st—Action picking up as Wallace plays it into the box for Valeri, who can't get a solid enough touch on it to find Urruti. Both teams are knocking at the door as the wind is really picking up.
43rd—A baaaaaad giveaway by Futty gives the ball to Keane on a silver platter. Kah is ahead of him and goes for the slide tackle, which slows Keane down just enough for Chara to sneak behind him and clear it over the line. Corner comes in and Gonzalez gets a solid header on it, but it's ping-ponged around a bit by Portland. Keane ends up with it and tries a backheel, but nothing doing. Dangerous moments for Portland, but they continue to hold their ground and hold off LA.
45th—Ball played ahead to Chara, who's taken down just outside the box. No call.
No indication of stoppage time...and it's HALFTIME. We're scoreless and plenty soggy. The play matched the weather conditions—pretty sloppy. Still, Portland won 54% of the possession and were just about even on 50/50 balls. LA managed seven shots to the Timbers' two, and four corners compared to zero for Portland.
SECOND HALF: Timbers headed toward their Army...and we're back at it!
47th—Free kick coming after a giveaway by Johnson. He tries to recover and slides as Jimenez passes and it bounds over the end line. Donovan with an outswinger and Johnson is there to knock it away.
49th—Chara with a long run down the west sideline. He gets near the box and cuts Marcelo, but can't get it past Franklin as LA clears.
50th—Urruti goes wide to Valeri, who dribbles into the box and fires a shot/cross that Penedo goes to his knee to nab.
51st—Portland's first corner of the match after Nagbe finds Wallace in space and he knocks a shot off an LA defender.
52nd—TIMBERS GOAL! It's Urruti with a beauty! Johnson sends it in fast and low near-post, and the newest Timber cleverly back-heel volleys it right-footed into the net. What a first goal for Urruti and the Timbers lead, 1-0.
54th—Portland with another good look there as Johnson sends in a free kick that slides right in front of Kah. Crowd lets out a gasp, as this one was almost 2-0.
56th—Zardes with a volley slam that hits Futty and earns another corner for LA. Donovan drops it back to Jimenez, who chests it down and loses it when Urruti comes flying in with a kick clearance.
57th—ANOTHER NEAR-GOAL FOR PORTLAND as Urruti with a lovely little pass to an open Wallace. He fires it high, and Penedo punches it away one-handed. Great pass, better save. Urruti looks like he's feeling it.
60th—Galaxy sub: Stephens on for Jimenez.
61st—Donovan gets it at the top of the box in a little bit of space and looks for Keane, but his pass rolls harmlessly over the line with Ricketts ushering.
64th—Ball played ahead to Zardes, who heads it down and rushes forward. Nagbe rushes back and defends it well, and it'll be a goal kick for Ricketts.
66th—Futty with a poor decision to dummy one and it leads to a 2-on-1. Keane looks to play it back to Zardes, who attempts a shot but shanks it. It pops up to Donovan, who heads it down and boots it, but Ricketts is there.
67th—Lots of buildup by Portland leads to a nice back-and-forth by the Argentinians. Urruti dummies it to Valeri, who back-heels it forward. Urruti is knocked to the ground—no call—and Timbers Army hates the no-call. It was a close one, and Urruti might get that call if he doesn't go to the pitch so often. Just sayin'.
71st—Wallace ahead to Valeri, who unleashes a great one-touch pass ahead back to Wallace. He runs it into the box and fires low and left, but Penedo dives and makes the save. LA quickly on the counter and Johnson wisely clears it from the top of the box.
72nd—Timbers go to the bench. It'll be Ryan Johnson on for Urruti. He jogs off the pitch to a big ovation and shakes the ref's hand as he departs.
74th—Franklin fouled just outside the box and it'll be a dangerous free kick opportunity. Two-man wall of Chara and Valeri. Kah picks up a yellow jockeying for position.
75th—Donovan chips it in front, but Kah is there to head it away.
77th—Valeri called offside after Johnson double-heads it forward. He picks up the ball and yells at the ref. The MVP candidate didn't like that call one bit.
79th—Ryan Johnson earns Portland a corner kick, but the Timbers will make a sub. It'll be Alhassan for Valeri.
80th—Will Johnson sends in an outswinger that's headed down by Kah and cleared.
82nd—Timbers with a free kick that sets up a nicely paced pass ahead by Chara. Opare is forced to knock it over the line, and we'll have a corner kick.
82nd—Will Johnson sends it in right to Juninho, who clears.
84th—LA sub: Courtois on for Opare.
85th—Nagbe escapes a pair of defenders along the east sideline and finds Ryan Johnson on a run. He crosses to Wallace, who heads it down. Nifty dribbling by Nagbe, who looks like a point guard dribbling through traffic at times, ball attached to his hand.
86th—Galaxy playing a man down as Juninho hobbles off.
88th—LA sub: Villareal for Juninho. During the break, Kah ties Ricketts shoes for him. How sweet of him! #teammates
89th—Nagbe gets it right along the end line and drops it for Chara, but his first touch is too strong. Galaxy on the counter.
90th—Courtois sends in a lovely cross to Donovan, who heads it back across the box before Portland clears for the moment. Kah goes down grabbing his face as he's called for a foul.
Three minutes of stoppage time...GALAXY NET ONE, BUT THEY'RE CALLED OFFSIDE! Donovan sends in near-post and Keane flicks it ahead, but the official's flag is up. Wow, how fortunate for Portland as Keane started the play juuuuuuuuust offside. Arena is livid on the sideline and LA is lobbying hard. But to no avail—a fantastic finish nullified, and the Timbers dodge one there....Cross from Villareal is headed backward by Futty and RICKETTS IS THERE TO SAVE IT. Whoa, another close call as Futty heads it on-goal.
FULL TIME: Timbers win, 1-0. And what a big win for the Timbers' playoff hopes. They're now four points ahead of LA, and the top of the table is within sight.