Portland Timbers clear on plan for Toronto: “We’re playing for three points”

Club reinforced by return of Will Johnson & Diego Chara

PORTLAND, Ore. – With the Portland Timbers coming off two of the toughest road games of the season against RSL and Seattle, Saturday’s game against Toronto FC at JELD-WEN Field (8 pm PT; KPTV, KXL 101.1 FM / La Pantera 940) would seemingly take on increased importance. 

Add to it the fact that, on paper, the Timbers’ next two games - against ninth-place TFC and next week against last-place Chivas USA - are as good a chance to pinch six points as any all season. It also doesn't hurt that Portland is undefeated over the past ten games at home (7-0-3).

But for Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, while this match is important, it's just one opportunity out of many to gain ground in the standings. Portland currently sit in a tie for fourth in the Western Conference with the fewest losses in MLS (5) and games in hand against many of the clubs ahead of them. Moreover, five of their last eight matches are within the friendly confines of JELD-WEN Field.

“We know this game is important,” Porter said after Friday’s training session at JELD-WEN. “We’re playing for three points, we’re at home – especially in those home games you want to get three points because you have a better chance to win those games.”

A familiar midfield duo could also return Saturday and aid in the Timbers' cause. Midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Chara will be on the pitch together for the first time since the first 45 minutes of Portland’s 0-0 draw July 20 against Philadelphia. Suspensions and injuries have kept the two holding mids apart, and the results have put a spotlight on their importance.

“Games are a lot of times won and lost in the center of the midfield in terms of ball-winning, possession and these two guys are two of the best in the league,” Porter said. “And when they play together they’re very destructive defensively in winning balls and ripping the heart out of the opponent.”

But as has been a common theme in Timbers camp the last two months, there will be some key absences.

Forward Ryan Johnson, defender Alvas Powell and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts are with Jamaica for international team duty. Attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, the team leader with 11 assists, has been limited in training this week after coming off of last weekend’s 4-2 loss to Real Salt Lake with an abductor strain.

Help has also arrived in the form of defender/midfielder Brad Ring, acquired in a trade this week with San Jose, and forward Bright Dike, who has missed the entire season with an ACL injury and will be in the 18, Porter said, for the second straight game.

But even with all the potential lineup adjustments, the squad as a whole remains concentrated on the task at hand: three points.

“The kind of mentality that wins is focusing on the details and you on your individual role and what you need to do to be successful and the team focuses on that as well,” defender Michael Harrington said. “That’s the type of mentality we’re going to go in with. You know, we think we can beat anybody, and so with that kind of mentality I think you’re going to be successful.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.