By Ben Golliver
Season On The Line For Portland Timbers This Sunday
Choose whichever flowery phrase you like: back against the wall, do or die, head on the guillotine, the last stand.Ãƒâ€š No matter the wordplay, the situation for the Portland Timbers is the same: if they don't win, and win convincingly, against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday, their 2010 campaign is over.
Such is life when you drop the opening match of a home-and-home playoffs series, and the Timbers did just that on Thursday night, falling to the Whitecaps in Canada, 2-0 (video highlights here). In our playoff preview, we noted that teams often like to play for the draw on the road and for the win at home; certainly no team plans on laying an egg like the Timbers did, conceding two goals in the first 13 minutes of play and failing to get on the board the rest of the way.
Although Thursday night was a disaster and the odds for playoff advancement will be steep, Portland's situation is not completely unsalvageable. Yes, a loss or draw on Sunday will end Portland's season outright and see Vancouver through to the USSF Division 2 semifinals. But a convincing victory — by a wider margin than their defeat on Thursday — will give Portland their reprieve and a ticket to the semifinals. The good news: Portland has scored 3 or more goals on 8 occasions and also has 13 shutout victories this year. This is soccer, the most maddening sport in the world: crazier things have happened.
While the Timbers return home to Portland for the second leg of the series, it's worth noting that they are not returning to familiar surroundings. Instead of playing in front of a packed PGE Park (which is undergoing renovation for next season's jump to MLS), the Timbers will host the Whitecaps at the University of Portland's Merlo Field. Merlo sports a gorgeous, perfectly-manicured pitch, but it's also a much more intimate setting, and the crowd is expected to be roughly 1/3 the size of PGE Park's. Looking for a silver lining to the venue change? The close proximity of the grandstands to the pitch should allow the Timbers Army every opportunity to exert their noisy influence.
To boil it all down: just cross your fingers and hope for a 3-0 blowout. Otherwise, 2010 will end just 2009, with the Whitecaps celebrating their playoff advancement, having punched Portland's offseason ticket in the process.
Event information: Vancouver Whitecaps @ Portland Timbers | Merlo Field Park | Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 10 @ 6PM | A limited number of tickets will be available on the day of the game at the box office.
Ben Golliver is a freelance writer, native Oregonian and avid follower of the Timbers.Ãƒâ€š He editsBlazersedge, co-hostsÃƒâ€š The Dontonio Wingcast and regularly contributes toÃƒâ€š SB Nation. Follow him onTwitter.