As the inaugural season in Major League Soccer winds down for the Portland Timbers, the squad finds themselves in something one wouldn’t have expected a month ago: a playoff hunt. Granted, right now in the standings the Timbers are on the outside looking in, but if last Saturday’s dominating victory over the New England Revolution is any indication, this team may be in the thick of things up until the very end.
After a disappointing stretch on the road back in mid-August, the Timbers returned home to Jeld-Wen Field and have apparently got their mojo back in the City of Roses. Two straight victories at home combined with a hard fought point in Philadelphia have seemingly injected a burst of late season energy into the team. The game against the Revs showcased, in my humble opinion, the best attacking half of soccer this team has played as a franchise. And I’m including the home drubbing against the Galaxy in that list.
Now I know this came against the last place Revolution, who at times in the first half looked as if they hadn’t gotten off the plane at PDX, but the newly tweaked lineup by coach John Spencer paid off immediately. Spencer had rookie Darlington Nagbe start up front with forward Kenny Cooper, while normal starter Jorge Perlaza sat out due to illness. That change resulted in one of the rookie’s finest performances of the season. Nagbe’s speed and athleticism — combined with speedy Mids Sal Zizzo, Diego Chara and Kahlif Alhassan — simply overwhelmed New England back line in the first half. The result was a 2-0 halftime lead on goals by Chara (is it safe to say the team’s MVP of the second half this year?) and Cooper (happy for the big guy) and plenty of other scoring chances. And while New England played with a bit more urgency in the second half, it was Nagbe who scored his second goal of the season on a header, with a nice assist by Alhassan, that put the game away for good.
With six games left and four of them on the road, the Timbers chances of making the post season seem unlikely. However, in this up and down season this team has bounced back each time when it looked like as they were down for the count. Every match going forward is a “must win” as they say. If the Timbers can put together a performance like Saturday from here on out, who knows? Maybe Jeld-Wen will be hosting its first ever MLS Cup playoff match in 2011.