Portland Timbers
With just two weeks remaining in the MLS season and the club's postseason aspirations hanging in the balance, the Portland Timbers cannot find a goal.

They were shut out at home by DC United last weekend, losing 1-0. They were shut out again at home on Wednesday night, losing 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls. And on Sunday afternoon, with Minnesota United in town for a critical Western Conference clash, the result only improved marginally: a 0-0 draw,

In a vacuum, this was an improved Timbers performance. They moved the ball with precision and poise for long periods of the game, hit the post twice, and, despite losing starters in both halves, generally outplayed a very solid Loons team.

But the bottom line didn't change — and the more the Timbers fail to both play well and win, which they haven't done in well over a month, the more the air of frustration and fatigue that has set in around this team thickens.

It was a nightmarish week. With the benefit of three separate home games, the Timbers picked up one point and fell below the playoff line.

This season isn't over. Not by any means. With three games to go in 2015, the MLS Cup-winning Timbers had just suffered a devastating loss to Sporting Kansas City that put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The margins are thin in MLS, and seasons can change quickly.

But the truth of the matter is that the Timbers haven't looked right for weeks. This team — which has dropped 14 points at Providence Park in just over a month and been held scoreless in 11 halves in the process — is a shell of the side that swept through the early summer with such verve and confidence.

The hope, going forward, is that Wednesday night's defeat against New York was the nadir. The Timbers came out with more vigor and intensity in this one, benefitting significantly from the returns of Sebastian Blanco in the attack and Larrys Mabiala in defense.

The game flowed quickly and purposefully early on. Both teams were eager to play in transition, the Timbers through their midfield, the Loons through Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye, but neither carved out any serious chances in opening minutes.

The Timbers' best stretch of the first half came around the half hour mark, as Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone — who was excellent when these teams met in Saint Paul in August — turning away strong efforts from Blanco and Brian Fernandez.

The Timbers had several more looks as the half wound towards its conclusion, but came no closer to scoring than when Blanco, as he's done to great effect several times this season, took the ball on the right wing at a distance of some 25 yards, took two big touches inside, and ripped a shot squarely off the crossbar and out.

It was the kind superman effort from the Argentine that sent the Timbers to MLS Cup last year, and even as the halftime whistle blew shortly thereafter, you had a sense that they might need something of a similar caliber to break their goal draught.

The Timbers did get a boost during the break when Minnesota's standout center back Ike Opara exited the game with a head injury suffered clearing a ball midway in the first half, but they were slow to take advantage.

Portland Timbers
Fernandez exited at the hour mark with dizziness, which Giovani Savarese said after the game might have been related to the stomach virus that held him out of the DC last weekend, having been held off the scoresheet for the fifth time in his last six games.

Then, 15 minutes into the second half, the Loons who nearly took the lead — when Robin Lod headed a Jan Gregus set piece towards goal, only the same crossbar that denied Blanco came to the Timbers' rescue.

That scare seemed to up the Timbers' sense of urgency. Several minutes later, Mannone was called into action again to deny Jeremy Ebobisse a headed goal of his own off of a deep cross from Jorge Moreira.

The Timbers would come even closer two minutes later when Cristhian Paredes charged into the path of an excellent cross from Blanco, but his header struck the inside of the post, ricocheted to Mannone, and was pushed away.

Just a minute after that, with the crowd roaring them on, the Timbers had their best, final chance. Blanco sent a devilish cross around the Minnesota center backs for Ebobisse, crashing in on the back post, but the young forward couldn't redirect the ball on target.

It was the kind of ball that Ebobisse has made his living with all year, but on this day, with the goal at his mercy, he couldn't put it away.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the amount of minutes they've played of late, the Timbers' seemed to slow in the final quarter of an hour. The will to find a winner was still there, but crosses aside, the creativity and cohesion necessary to create clear-cut opportunities was not.

In the end, Minnesota might well have stolen it. An uncharacteristic giveaway from Diego Chara — who, it should be noted, has played every minute of every game since the start of August — let Kevin Molino through on goal, but Steve Clark stood him up to salvage a point.

Despite that missed chance, the Loons were happy enough with their afternoon. They offered little going forward and were somewhat loose in possession, but they scrambled well defensively and again got big games from their goalkeeper and their central midfield partnership of Gregus and Osvaldo Alonso.

They're postseason-bound for the first time in franchise history. The Timbers, meanwhile, were left shaking their heads.

Savarese said postgame that it has been a "crazy year," and he's absolutely right. Eleven consecutive road games to start, ten consecutive home games now, huge, prolonged swings in form, and an off-the-field controversy that has dragged on for months, and significantly impacted the atmosphere at Providence Park.

It's been exhausting — and the Timbers, in the midst of playing five games in 15 days, won't be allowed a rest any time soon. They're back at it in just three days' time, on Wednesday night, against another worthy opponent in Bruce Arena's New England Revolution.

There's no rest for the weary. Not this year, anyway. And so the Timbers, their players, their management, and their fans, will just have to believe: believe, perhaps beyond reason, that this season has one more big twist in it.

Portland Timbers