We break down the Western Conference table as Decision Day looms
Three straight wins. Nine points. The Portland Timbers are surging up the Western Conference table as Decision Day looms.
With 42 points and in sole possession of the 7th-and-final spot in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs there’s still work to do, but it has been a momentum-building week for Portland, which picked up 21% of their seasons point total in one fell swoop.
A late-season Timbers surge is nothing new, but with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar kicking off in under three months, it's a race against time. To put things in perspective, Providence Park hosted the MLS Cup Final on December 11 last year; this year, it will be played on November 5.
Portland’s final stretch of the season includes home games against Minnesota United and LAFC and trips to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Columbus, Ohio. It’s no easy slate, which is why picking up three wins on the bounce was crucial.
We know about where the Timbers stand, but what about the teams around them? Seven points separate 3rd and 8th place in the West and with four games left to play, Portland can finish the season with as many as 54 points.
Here is what can happen elsewhere in the West ahead of Decision Day....
With three wins over its last five games, FC Dallas is heating up at the right time. The Texas side went to Minnesota and scored three goals in as many minutes to take home all three points.
Portland doesn’t play FC Dallas again this season. Both teams last played to a 1-1 draw on August 6 with both goals scored in second-half stoppage time. Dallas won the first matchup 4-1 in Frisco, Texas, back in March.
Dallas has another difficult test in LAFC coming up before heading on a two-game road trip with matches against the San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids before returning home for a Decision Day match against Sporting Kansas City.
Already sitting in third place, FC Dallas can reach 58 points.
From one team reaching peak form to another, Nashville SC has scored goals in droves to the tune of a four-game winning streak with a plus-13 goal differential.
Nashville defeated 2nd place Austin FC 3-0 over the weekend and has a matchup against the LA Galaxy coming up. It has two extremely difficult road tests remaining with trips to Austin, Texas, and Southern California to play LAFC, but its home slate is manageable with the Houston Dynamo coming to town.
The Timbers and Nashville SC have played to a pair of draws this season (2-2 in Nashville, 1-1 in Portland). Coach Gary Smith’s team sits at fourth place in the Western Conference and can reach 57 total points this season.
When looking at the teams around Portland’s position in the standings, Minnesota United is the club trending downward. The Timbers have the ability to take advantage of the Loons sudden downturn in form as soon as September 10 when both sides meet at Providence Park for what amounts to a six-point game.
Minnesota United is coming off the aforementioned 3-0 loss to FC Dallas and will be without forward Franco Fragapane in Portland as he picked up a red card in that defeat. Before that, the Loons suffered a 3-0 defeat to RSL in Salt Lake City.
Both teams played to a thrilling 4-4 draw in Minnesota on July 30 and next weekend presents Portland with a prime opportunity to stake their claim on a valuable playoff spot.
The Loons have a game in hand on Portland, which makes Saturday’s game all the more vital. After their trip to Providence Park, they host LAFC, travel to play SKC and San Jose before finishing the season at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Minnesota United has the potential to reach 59 points this season.
Real Salt Lake
Not many MLS venues present a more challenging away trip than Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL has lost just twice there in 14 games and has another three games to play in front of what is consistently a sold out crowd.
RSL has among the most games in hand out of any Western Conference team still chasing the playoffs, too. It has taken eight points from its last five games, but has a brutal stretch to end the season. Pablo Mastroeni’s team still has to play on the road against Austin FC and the LA Galaxy. It hosts DC United, Cincinnati and Portland to close the season.
The Timbers beat RSL 3-0 in February and drew 0-0 back in April. Both teams meet for the final time in the regular season on Decision Day. RSL can finish its 2022 campaign with as many as 57 points.
With 39 points, the LA Galaxy are the team nipping at Portland’s heels. Portland and LA drew 1-1 in June and the Timbers lost 3-1 back in April. Both teams do not play each other again, but LA has two games in hand over the Timbers.
The Galaxy still have to travel to Nashville, Vancouver, San Jose and Houston as well as host Colorado and RSL to finish the regular season. If it wins out, LA can reach 57 points.