Timbers closing in on playoff spot
The Portland Timbers are on the brink of clinching a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs. The easiest way to do so is with a win over the team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Looking to win their fifth straight league match at home, the Timbers face D.C. United on Sunday.
With two matches to go in the regular season, Portland (13-11-8) is tied with Seattle for third in the Western Conference. Both teams are one point behind Sporting Kansas City, but only one point ahead of Houston.
If the Timbers draw with D.C. (9-18-5), they will clinch on Sunday if Sporting Kansas City loses to Houston and either FC Dallas draws or loses to Seattle or San Jose ties or falls to Vancouver.
"We're not in the playoffs yet," Timbers coach Caleb Porter told the Oregonian. "We need to win the next game."
Portland is 9-2-4 at home and has not lost at Providence Park since dropping a 4-1 decision to Real Salt Lake. The Timbers have outscored the opposition 10-2 during their winning streak.
Porter, though, is not about to overlook what appears to be a lesser opponent.
"Obviously, they're out of playoffs," Porter said. "There's some teams and coaches where that might impact their team. Not D.C. and not (coach) Ben Olsen. He's a fighter and his teams always fight for him."
Olsen told the United's official website that this match will go a long way toward how the club plans for 2018.
"We've got a tough task out in Portland. We'll be going against one of the best teams in the league right now in a very difficult environment," he said. "We need to use this as preparation for next year, and we'd love to spoil anybody's plans that's in our way."
D.C. is 3-11-2 on the road in MLS this year.
The player to watch is Portland's Diego Valeri. The Argentine has 20 goals, tying him with NYCFC's David Villa for second in MLS. Chicago's Nemanja Nikolic leads the league with 21.
Valeri collected 10 goals in a nine-game scoring streak that was snapped in a 2-1 loss at San Jose on Sept. 30.
United's Luciano Acosta and Patrick Mullins are tied for the team lead with five goals apiece.
The teams have not met since the United snapped a three-game skid against Portland with a 2-0 victory on Aug. 13, 2016.
Updated October 14, 2017