Say what you will about the mental toll of spending two months in the pressure cooker of a MLS playoff race.
Triple that if you’re the Portland Timbers, says head coach John Spencer.
He said his team has been under pressure since they stepped onto the pitch for their first game April 14 at JELD-WEN Field, thanks to the passion of a fan base that sold out all 17 home games.
“Every game here is a pressurized game,” Spencer said after the Timbers’ playoff hopes were dealt a major blow in a 2-0 loss Friday against the Houston Dynamo, the Timbers’ first home defeat since July 10. “We don't play small games, no disrespect to anybody. We’re one of the best clubs in the country off the field.”
Thanks to a midseason slump that saw the Timbers go winless in eight out of nine games, Portland have been highly in tune with their postseason mortality since early August. That’s when the Timbers beat the LA Galaxy 3-0 to resuscitate their season, leading to more than two months of high-stakes matches.
That continues as the Timbers hit the road today in preparation for Wednesday’s match against D.C. United (8 pm ET, watch LIVE online), the make-up date for the Aug. 27 game that was canceled due to Hurricane Irene. With two games remaining, the Timbers need six points and for a host of scenarios to unfold from the teams ahead of them in the standings to make the playoffs.
“I think for the last month people have been telling us every game we’ve been playing is a must-win,” midfielder and team captain Jack Jewsbury said. “When those have come up, we’ve done well. I thought the effort [against Houston] was there, but for whatever reason we didn’t play our best soccer.”
So did the pressure finally get to the Timbers?
“I think it wasn’t a lack of effort,” defender Mike Chabala said. “I don’t know if it was, maybe, too much pressure that some of the guys felt at not having experience in these types of situations. It’s disappointing. The positive side is that we have two games left that are going to be very difficult on the road. Who knows what will happen? All we can do is make sure we prepare and get ready for our Wednesday game at D.C.”
Zizzo out last two games
Midfielder Sal Zizzo, who injured his left knee Friday against Houston, isn’t expected to play in the Timbers final two games, Spencer said at training Sunday. He was evaluated Saturday by team physician Dr. Jonathan Greenleaf, but the results have not been released.
“The doctor can always give us good news, but I’m not hoping,” Spencer said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.