PORTLAND, Ore. — Just less than a month ago, the Portland Timbers were left for dead.
After squandering a two-goal lead in a 2-2 tie at home July 30 against Toronto FC, the Timbers had gone winless in nine of 10 matches — a brutal stretch that included seven losses.
The lineup was in turmoil. The playoffs seemed unrealistic. And head coach John Spencer was fielding questions about his job security — a scenario that seemed unfathomable when the Timbers were the toast of the town after they shot out of the gate with a seven-game unbeaten streak at home.
But now everything has changed.
After Wednesday’s 1-0 victory against Chivas USA — the Timbers' second straight win — Portland are tied with New York for the final wildcard playoff spot, though the Red Bulls hold an advantage thanks to head-to-head and goal-differential tiebreaker rules.
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“We’re just learning what is required to be successful in this league,” Spencer said. “I think we've grown up quickly this year. I think we grew up after we had that slump and I think we came out at the [other] end of the tunnel.”
Portland even weathered a two-game losing streak on the road last week, something made possible by reestablishing their home dominance. The Timbers started August with a 3-0 victory over league-leading LA Galaxy, and then followed it up with victories over the Vancouver Whitecaps and Chivas USA.
“It’s huge,” Timbers midfielder Sal Zizzo said. “I talked about it before: Playing at home, we’re a tough team. Coming back off two road losses and getting two home wins, we’re right back in things.”
But first, the Timbers face the specter of going away from JELD-WEN Field when they play Saturday at D.C. United, one of the teams they leapfrogged in the wildcard standings with Wednesday’s victory. The Timbers are 1-8-3 on the road.
United are trailing Portland by just a point.
“I think that we’re formidable at home at times,” Spencer said. “We need to, now, after the last two performances, get on the road to DC and try and put in a good performance there so that we stay in this position.”