The Timbers are looking for three points in their first trip to Lower.com Field as they face Columbus
The Portland Timbers did exactly what they set out to do over the past couple of weeks: turn two home games into six crucial points.
Because of that, the Timbers continued to climb up the Western Conference table and, thanks to other results around MLS, have a five-point cushion separating themselves from the playoff line with three regular-season games remaining.
Now Portland must ride its wave of momentum on the road once again, this time for an early game against Columbus Crew SC on Sunday in its first game at Lower.com Field (10am PT, ESPN). With their playoff destiny in their own hands, the Timbers know they need to take care of business on the road before finishing the season with a couple of intra-conference games.
Here’s what to keep an eye on as Portland aims for its fifth win on the bounce:
Timbers know they can’t overlook a Columbus team on short rest
Portland will be more rested than Columbus come Sunday, but the team remains careful not to overlook its opponent, focusing instead on its own game.
The Crew fell 2-1 against Inter Miami on Tuesday in a game that also involved a lengthy weather delay, while the Timbers have been off since its 1-0 win against Minnesota United FC on September 10th.
“For us to be naive and think that (Columbus) is going to be tired on Sunday, that’s not going to be the case,” said Savarese. “They’re going to be ready to play and we have to be ready to step up and put in a good game.”
With both teams still fighting for a spot in the 2022 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs–the Crew currently sit in seventh in the Eastern Conference–expect a high-intensity afternoon this Sunday.
The Matchup | Jake Zivin previews Portland at Columbus
Portland hopes to build on recent positive trends
It isn’t often the Timbers fail to score in MLS play. In fact, no team has scored in more of its matches than Portland, which has found the back of the net in 27 of 31 games played so far this season.
Fifty goals put the Timbers at third place in Goals For in the Western Conference and their defense has been solid lately, too. Portland has four-consecutive one-goal wins, including a clean sheet against the Loons, behind solid defense and the individual brilliance of goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic.
With a high-octane offense and defense continuing to round into form, Portland wants to continue building on recent momentum as the postseason looms.
Every point matters as the Timbers push for a home playoff game
Just a single point currently separates the Timbers from hosting an opening-round playoff game at Providence Park. With a single-elimination playoff format, even one game in the Rose City could make the difference between a deep postseason run or an early exit.
Portland showed exactly why positioning matters on its run to the 2021 MLS Cup final. Fifth in the Western Conference, it opened the playoffs with a 3-1 win at home before beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 on the road. Because of how other results fell, the Timbers didn’t need to leave the Pacific Northwest again and hosted the final itself.
Nashville SC currently occupies the third-and-final home playoff spot out west on 46 points with the same number of games played. Coach Giovanni Savarese’s team knows it can’t control what goes on around them; all they can do is win, which they hope to accomplish in Ohio.
“Doing a lot of math doesn’t help,” said Savarese. “At the end of the day, if we win our games, we’re going to qualify. That’s the mentality. Then if other teams do things to help us, excellent. But first, we have to help ourselves and that’s by winning games; each three points puts us closer to qualifying.”