A loss to the Seattle Sounders always has meaning in the Rose City beyond the Western Conference table.
But following the Portland Timbers' 2-0 defeat Sunday at CenturyLink Field, not only is the team coping with a blow in the always-important Cascadia rivalry, but also the imposing hill left to climb in the standings. After going winless in their last four league matches, losing two of the last three, Portland (4-6-9) have dropped to eighth place in the West with 21 points from 19 games.
Only the San Jose Earthquakes (4-8-4, 16 points) are worse.
“I mean, we knew how important these last 16 games were,” Timbers attacker Steve Zakuani said. “We didn’t expect to win 16 games. We knew maybe there’d be a couple of losses in there, this could be one of them, and you know, there’s no secret – we have to win some games.”
That starts Friday when the Colorado Rapids come to Providence Park (11 pm ET; NBCSN). The Rapids are in third place, six points clear of Portland, and that game kicks off a crucial month-and-a-half stretch against teams currently ahead of Portland in the standings, including LA Galaxy (Aug. 2), Chivas USA (Aug. 8), Seattle (Aug. 24) and Vancouver Whitecaps (Aug. 30).
Head coach Caleb Porter said those six-point swings, especially against teams within shouting distance of the Timbers, are especially important.
“We have to move on,” Porter said. “This is a game where if we would’ve gotten three points, it would’ve helped, but there are more important games ahead – the swing playoff teams. We’ve got to move on. Right now recovery is key. We had a very long week and gave a lot physically and emotionally, but we have to recover and get back to work and get ready for Colorado. That game is going to be very critical.”
When it comes to qualifying for a second straight year for the MLS Cup playoffs, the Timbers really aren’t in all that bad of shape – in a vacuum. They trail fifth-place Vancouver by just four points for the final postseason spot.
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But with resurgent Chivas USA, winners of four straight, and Galaxy, seven-game unbeaten streak, ahead of Portland in the standings, and with just 15 games remaining, it won’t be easy.
“We could have won the [Sounders] game,” Zakuani said. “So we’ll take those positives and in these next 15 games now, we keep pushing and trying to turn as many of them into wins as possible. The goal is to make the playoffs. We’re not out of the playoffs, but we have with some urgency now I guess.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.