The 2014 Major League Soccer season is into its fifth month, and time is starting to run out for those teams that haven't yet found a way to win consistently (or in New England's case, forgotten how). Just three weeks remain until the All-Star break. Ater that, the season begins its final third and surges down the home stretch.
Your humble columnist was in attendance at the filled-to-capacity meeting between Seattle and Portland on Sunday, and spent time wandering around Occidental Park watching the home support congregate and march in. The schadenfreude that would accompany keeping the Timbers below the "red line" and denting their playoff hopes seemed — at least according to a small, angry man in cargo pants with a megaphone — nearly as important as maintaining Seattle's Supporters' Shield bid.
And the Sounders did just that. They won 2-0, stayed ahead of the pack, and dealt the Timbers a fourth straight MLS game without a win, in addition to the U.S. Open Cup exit foisted upon them in the preceding week. Vancouver also faced a rival and slipped, giving up a second-half penalty to draw 1-1 with Toronto FC.
A few weeks back, this column delved into the math behind making the playoffs. At that point, Portland was second to last in the Western Conference, with a 0.91 points per game mark. That number has improved slightly since then — up to 1.11 — but not by enough, and the Timbers are still second to last.
The likely minimum for a playoff spot in the West is still around 48 points, but the Timbers have just 21 so far — and are only on pace for 38. To even have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, Portland would need 27 points from 15 games, a blistering 1.8 PPG pace that only Seattle has hit this season and which would have won the Supporters' Shield last year. Considering Portland's 4-6-9 record, one league win since May and conference-worst 32 goals allowed, it doesn't look likely.
Without that kind of sudden surge in performance, Portland is left grasping at the straws of hoping for catastrophic implosion by all three of Chivas USA, Vancouver and Dallas. That's entirely possibly with any one of those teams, but the thought of all three tripping over their feet and landing on their faces while the Timbers limp past strains credulity.
If any team is going to explode past the others and take the last spot, it could be Chivas USA. Leaning heavily on Mexican wunderkind Erick Torres and Argentine veteran Mauro Rosales, the Goats went from having two wins in the first three months of the season to a four-game winning streak since MLS returned from its World Cup hiatus. They've also tightened up a once-leaky defense and have conceded just twice in their last five games.
In other words, Chivas USA is having the second half of the season that Portland needed, while the Timbers, with one home win and the worst defense in the West, look a lot closer last year's Chivas USA.
At least things are better for Vancouver. Carl Robinson's side has danced back and forth across the red line all season and remains well in the hunt. It's currently out of fifth behind Dallas — equal on points but trailing on games won — but has a game in hand.
Seattle, well... you're fine.
Portland — Out of the Open Cup, struggling to stay afloat in the league and beaten twice in a week by their closest and most hated rivals, it's not a great time to be a Timbers fan. At least the Timbers Army et al. have the CONCACAF Champions League to look forward to. Portland kicks off its first continental campaign with a trip to Guyana next month.
Coming up: If the Timbers are to maintain an outside shot at November soccer, a win over Colorado would help. The Rapids are in a good position but far from safe, and the Timbers need three points. Especially at home. Friday, July 18, 8 p.m. PT - NBCSN.
Seattle — Another morale-boosting win over Portland and even the players are crowing on twitter as Seattle marches toward trophies. The Supporters' Shield should be assured if anything like current form is maintained, and a record for points in a season would be achieved at the current rate. A very slight improvement would see the Sounders set a record for points per game.
Coming up: The Sounders have a break from league play until July 28 but will host English Premier League side Tottenham in a friendly this weekend. Saturday, July 19, 1 p.m. PT - ESPN2.
Vancouver — A point at Toronto FC isn't the end of the world, especially with the number of chances the Reds created, but living on the wire could come back to hurt the Whitecaps. They've spent all season back and forth over the playoff line.
Coming up: Real Salt Lake has dropped off significantly since it started the season with a 12-game unbeaten run, and this seems like the perfect opportunity for a smash-and-grab result against another Western Conference team in danger of being dragged down into the playoff fighting pit. Saturday, July 19, 7 p.m. PT - MLS Live.
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