It's the stretch drive of a regular season and the Portland Timbers are catching fire. It's seemingly an annual occurrence in the Rose City.
A year ago, the Timbers won 10 of their final 14 games, including the last three of the regular season, and rode that momentum into hosting MLS Cup 2021.
Giovanni Savarese’s side appears to be following that same script, as a 1-0 victory over Minnesota United FC at Providence Park Saturday night was the Timbers’ fourth in a row and propelled them into fifth in the Western Conference standings with three games remaining in their regular season.
It was, as Savarese said, a “massive result.”
“I think that's a well-deserved three points, actually six points, because we took three away from Minnesota,” the Timbers head coach said postgame, with Dairon Asprilla's 61st-minute corner-kick header the difference.
“We know that every time that we play them it's always difficult. So very important for us today and we move a little closer to where we need to be — three more matches, huge games, one at a time as I said and we have to continue to work.”
The Timbers are one point behind fourth-place Nashville SC and have a chance to host an Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs match at Providence Park, where they’ve lost just twice this season (8W-2L-6D record).
But Minnesota and Real Salt Lake, narrowly behind them above the playoff line, both have a game in hand on the Timbers. And the eighth-place LA Galaxy, who have 40 points from 29 matches, have two games in hand.
"We need to focus on ourselves, we need to do our job, and what happens we cannot control other things,” said goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic. “We can only control what we do, and we just need to keep on going, keep on winning, and that’s all we care about.”
Ivacic has been a big part of another late-season Timbers' push. He made five saves Saturday night to earn his sixth clean sheet of the season. The 28-year-old co-leads Major League Soccer with 103 saves alongside San Jose's JT Marcinkowski.
“It’s very simple, hard work. Nothing else,” Ivacic said. “I said that I am the best, and I am proving that.”
“Yeah I think I should be there,” said the Slovenian backstop. “I think I am the [MLS] All-Star MVP.”
Two of the Timbers’ final three games are away from home, including a match at the Columbus Crew next Sunday (1 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
That is followed by a massive home game against West leaders LAFC (Oct. 2) and a Decision Day showdown with Real Salt Lake (Oct. 9) at America First Stadium.
“That was a huge game for us obviously, for the fight for the playoffs. But we needed that three points and we got them,” Ivacic said. “It wasn’t an easy year, but we’re fighting all together in difficult times and now it’s paying off. I’m just happy for the group.”