PORTLAND, Ore. – With the Portland Timbers coming off two consecutive losses for the first time this season, Saturday’s game against Toronto FC at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET; MLS Live) would seemingly take on increased importance.
Add to it the fact that, on paper, the Timbers’ next two games – against ninth-place TFC and next week against last-place Chivas USA – are as good a chance to pinch six points as any all season. But head coach Caleb Porter said, there’s nothing “must-win” about it.
“We know this game is important,” Porter said after Friday’s training session at JELD-WEN. “We’re playing for three points, we’re at home – especially in those home games you want to get three points because you have a better chance to win those games.
"But the conversation and the questions regarding must-win games when you have eight games left and you’re in playoff position is interesting to me. I don’t get those questions, and we don’t think that way. We’re thinking about three points in every game we play.”
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It is, in fact, true that a loss against Toronto wouldn’t eliminate the Timbers from anything. But it would certainly be a devastating result for a Portland side that has posted just one win in their last eight games, dropping them into a tie for fourth place in the tightly packed Western Conference.
“If we were 10 points out, obviously it would be a must-win game,” Porter said. “If we don’t win this game, which we’re not planning to not win this game, but if you don’t win this game, you’ve got to find points somewhere else. It’s not a must-win game.”
There is little doubt, however, that the Timbers should win this game.
Midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Chara will be on the field together for the first time since the first 45 minutes of Portland’s 0-0 draw July 20 against Philadelphia. Suspensions and injuries have kept the two holding mids apart, and the results have put a spotlight on their importance.
“Games are a lot of times won and lost in the center of the midfield in terms of ball-winning, possession and these two guys are two of the best in the league,” Porter said. “And when they play together they’re very destructive defensively in winning balls and ripping the heart out of the opponent.”
But as has been a common theme in Timbers camp the last two months, there will be some key absences.
Forward Ryan Johnson, defender Alvas Powell and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts are with Jamaica for international team duty. Attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, the team leader with 11 assists, has been limited in training this week after coming off of last weekend’s 4-2 loss to Real Salt Lake with an abductor strain.
Help has also arrived in the form of defender/midfielder Brad Ring, acquired in a trade this week with San Jose, and forward Bright Dike, who has missed the entire season with an ACL injury and will be in the 18, Porter said, for the second straight game.
Just don’t call it a must-win.
“That’s not the kind mentality that wins,” defender Michael Harrington said. “The kind of mentality that wins is focusing on the details and you on your individual role and what you need to do to be successful and the team focuses on that as well.
"That’s the type of mentality we’re going to go in with. You know, we think we can beat anybody, and so with that kind of mentality I think you’re going to be successful.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.