Timbers' final stretch begins with pivotal trip to Philly

Jack Jewsbury points the way for the Portland Timbers

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Photos by Craig Mitchelldyer

The Portland Timbers finally take to the pitch again on Saturday, ending a 17-day layoff when they visit the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park in what will be a pivotal game for both clubs. (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online)

Both teams are fighting for wild card playoff positioning, with the Union currently holding the ninth spot, just three points ahead of the Timbers, who are tied for 10th with the New York Red Bulls.

After an extended break that allowed the Timbers to heal their bumps and bruises, the club is raring to hit the pitch again.

“We’re just looking forward to get in a game again,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “We had a nice little run there and guys are feeling good. It was nice to get a little time off, a little down time, but now it’s time to get back to work.”

The time off also allowed Portland – who beat Cascadia rivals Vancouver and followed that up with a win over Chivas USA – to ride the high of a two-game winning streak.

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“Going into a two-week break off two wins definitely keeps the locker room an exciting place to be,” midfielder and team captain Jack Jewsbury said. “We’re excited about it. We’re excited about where we’re at. And we’re excited to make a push for the playoffs not only for ourselves but for the organization and the fans. When you’re hot, you need to ride that for as long as you can, and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Portland’s hot month of August – the Timbers posted a 3-2-1 record, which also included a 3-0 victory over league-leading LA Galaxy – propelled them right into the thick of the playoff race.

But as the Timbers make their run at the playoffs in their first season in MLS, they’ll have to do it facing the specter of their woes away from JELD-WEN Field. Portland’s road record of 1-8-3 is one of the worst in the league.

With five out of their final eight games on the road, earning a spot in the playoffs will depend on how well Portland can solve their road conundrum.

“If there’s one negative, it’s how we’ve performed on the road,” Jewsbury said. “And we understand that, and we want to prove some people wrong here at the end of the season. The truth of the matter is, for us to make the playoffs we’re going to have to get some results in these five games on the road.

“There’s a lot of confidence among the group,” Jewsbury added. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work in these two weeks we’ve had off. Everybody is ready for the final stretch to make a push toward the playoffs.”

Careful of Union’s young guns

Former teenage phenom Freddy Adu joined Philadelphia in August, and already he’s shown he’s one of the Union’s lethal weapons.

After adjusting to his new team coming off the bench for his first two games with the Union, Adu has started the last two. In Philadelphia’s last match, a thrilling 4-4 tie on Wednesday against New England, the midfielder scored his first MLS goal since 2007 to spark a three-goal comeback for the Union.

“We know he’s a dangerous guy, whether that’s in a starting role or coming off the bench,” Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury said of Adu. “He’s a guy who can offensively change the outcome of the game, and we have to be aware of him.”

Along with 20-year-old Danny Mwanga, who was also a No. 1 overall pick, the Union’s offensive attack is emerging as one of the league’s most talented.

“They’re a very good team,” Timbers defender Rodney Wallace said after training Friday in Philadelphia. “They have a lot of weapons. Obviously, with the addition of Freddy they have even more firepower.”