With Jack Jewsbury's announcement on Sunday that this will be his last MLS season, the rest of 2016 has
taken on a more urgent and immediate importance for a Portland Timbers team that appears to be rounding into form with just four games left in the regular season.
Jewsbury will be in the starting lineup on Saturday night — as he has been in every Timbers league match since the beginning of August — and he'll try to lead Portland to an elusive first road win of the season in Houston against the Western Conference's last-placed Dyanmo (6:00 PM, TV on KPDX).
Portland and Houston have met just once previously this year, on a hot day at the end of June at Providence Park. The Dynamo had just fired manager Owen Coyle, and raced out to a 2-0 lead before halftime behind goals from Andrew Wenger and Will Bruin.
But then the Timbers, as they've done so many times at home over the last several years, stormed back — thanks in large part to Lucas Melano, who was in the midst of an indian summer with the club. The winger scored one, and then won a controversial late penalty that Diego Valeri tucked away to win the game 3-2.
Portland's last trip to Houston was a fairly miserable one in the spring of 2015, with the club struggling to score goals in Valeri's absence and mired at the bottom of the conference. The Dynamo won the game 3-1. The Timbers would then go on to lose in Toronto, sparking the Same As It Ever Was protest before the following home game against DC United.
Portland has never won in Houston, and no matter how bad the team is, this is always an extremely difficult trip. The forecast for Saturday? 89 degrees and thunderstorms.
Portland's first team is as settled as its been all year, with Caleb Porter expected to name an unchanged team for the third straight game. The final spot in the lineup that was up in the air, on the wing opposite Darlington Nagbe, was resoundingly won by Darren Mattocks against Philadelphia last weekend.
Jewsbury's place, starting alongside Diego Chara in central midfield, is secure — making this the first time ever under Porter that Jewsbury has been a first-choice midfielder down the stretch. The old captain truly is going out on top of his game.
Houston has been out of the playoff race for months, but, to their credit, they've kept playing for interim manager Wade Barrett. The Dynamo scored one of their best wins of the season last weekend, beating Real Salt Lake at the Rio Tinto.
Houston generally keeps games tight at home. The Timbers didn't come out with the requisite energy in their last road match, also in the Lone Star State against Dallas, and they'll need to come out with intensity in this one. It won't be a walkover.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
24 - Ridgewell (C)
27 - S. Taylor
5 - Vytas
13 - Jewsbury
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri
22 - Mattocks
9 - Adi
At some point, the Timbers are going to get that elusive away win — and with all that's driving them on now, it might as well be on Saturday. 2-1 Portland.