• Bob Levey/Getty

Any plans for the last weekend of October? If you had "watching the Timbers' opening-round MLS playoff match," penciled into your calendar, you might want to reach for the eraser.

Portland didn't look much like a team that had a full week to prepare for its most crucial stretch of the season, and the Timbers hardly resembled a club buoyed by a three-match unbeaten streak and the emotions of a trio of homecomings. And after Sunday's 2-1 Houston victory, Portland's postseason hopes appear dim after the team looked like anything but a playoff team for an inconsistent (at best) first 45 minutes.

The second half (which featured a Darlington Nagbe-assisted goal by Jack Jewsbury in the 56th) looked more promising, and nobody could accuse the Timbers of wilting in the heat as they'd done earlier this season. But it's a tad late in the game for moral victories, and although Portland continues to improve, the learning curve isn't looking steep enough to vault them among the MLS Cup contenders.

"I think we were very unlucky to not come away with something tonight," said coach John Spencer.

Should Portland's fortunes change, it'll need to happen quickly: The Timbers are right back at it on Wednesday night (5:30 p.m., FOX 12), when they face Cap'n Jack's old team, Sporting KC, in another key road match.

It's about as must-win as it gets for Portland, whose playoff hopes are fading fast.