sports 4 days ago

Portland Timbers aim to clinch playoff berth with win over D.C. United Sunday

The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. — Jamie Goldberg The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Oct. 12--The Portland Timbers have had to wait until the final day of the regular season to determine their playoff fate in each of the last three years.

But they have a chance to book their ticket to the postseason a bit earlier this year.

The Timbers (13-11-8, 47 points) will earn an automatic berth to the MLS Cup Playoffs with a win over last place D.C. United (9-18-5, 32 points) Sunday and could even clinch a spot in the postseason with a draw or a loss in the game if results around the league go their way.

"I know our guys are buzzing and ready to stamp our ticket to the playoffs," Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.

While earning a spot in the postseason would be a key achievement for the Timbers, the club is aiming to do more than just sneak into the playoffs.

With a win over D.C. United Sunday, the Timbers, who have two games left in the regular season, would put themselves in a strong position to clinch either the third or fourth seed in the Western Conference and avoid going on the road for a knockout game to open their playoff run. The home team has won 13 of the 16 knockout round games that have taken place since the format was introduced in 2011.

A victory Sunday could also be enough to keep the Timbers in the race for a top-two spot in the West, which would enable them to skip the knockout round entirely.

"The goal is to win a trophy," Porter said. "Ideally, you want to get in the playoffs as high as possible for obvious reasons. That's our goal, to finish as high as possible. But, number one, we have to get in."

While the top six teams in the Eastern Conference have already booked their spots in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the race in the Western Conference remains tight with two weeks left in the regular season. The Vancouver Whitecaps are the only team in the West that have clinched a playoff berth, and only five points currently separate the third place Timbers from the eighth place San Jose Earthquakes.

Still, Portland has the advantage of a favorable schedule to close out the year.

The Timbers will play their final two games of the regular season at Providence Park, where they have posted a tremendous 9-2-4 record this year. And on Sunday, Portland has the benefit of hosting the Eastern Conference bottom-dwellers in D.C. United, who have already been eliminated from playoff contention and hold a poor 3-11-2 record on the road.

"Obviously, they're out of playoffs," Porter said. "There's some teams and coaches where that might impact their team. Not D.C. and not (D.C. coach) Ben Olsen. He's a fighter and his teams always fight for him."

A loss against a weak D.C. United club Sunday could be devastating for Portland, possibly putting the Timbers in a situation where they are simply fighting to secure a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season. But if the Timbers can take care of business at home, they have a chance to set up a massive match against the first place Vancouver Whitecaps on the final day of the regular season where a top-two spot in the West could be on the line.

The Timbers know they can't control results across the league Sunday. Instead, they are solely focused on putting themselves in the best position possible in the playoff race with a win at home.

"We're not in the playoffs yet," Porter said. "We need to win the next game."

Notes: Porter did not say whether striker Fanendo Adi, who has missed eight-straight games with a hamstring injury, would be healthy enough to feature in Sunday's game against D.C. United. Porter did say Adi is improving and will see minutes before the end of the season.

-- Jamie Goldberg -- jgoldberg@oregonian.com

503-853-3761 -- @jamiebgoldberg

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