Coming into the weekend, the Portland Timbers were looking to clinch one of the six Western Conference playoff spots against visiting DC United. DC is the worst team in the Eastern Conference by a pretty fair margin, and are the second worst team in MLS only by a tie breaker with the LA Galaxy. DC hasn’t been in the playoff hunt in months. A match against a non-conference team with nothing to play for has the markings of dangerous all over it, but the Timbers proved why they are still within reach of the top spot in the West as the season nears its end.
There was plenty at stake for the Timbers, namely home field advantage in the playoffs, and a chance for a bye rather than a first round knockout game. The Timbers came to play, led, as usual, by midfielder Diego Valeri. Valeri entered the afternoon two goals back of Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic in the race for the Golden Boot. Valeri picked up a penalty kick goal in first half stoppage time; however, Nikolic was already well on his way to earning himself a hat trick against Philadelphia, taking his season goal tally to 24 by the end of the day. With only one regular season match left, it would take a miracle for Valeri or anyone else to catch him.
Valeri is still in the race for the Landon Donovan MVP award, and here’s why I believe he should win it: Against DC, not only did Valeri strike from the penalty spot, but he also had two assists. He now has 21 goals and 11 assists on the season. The only top scorer in the league that comes close to Valeri’s assists total is last season’s MVP, NYCFC’s David Villa, who currently has 20 goals and 9 assists. Not only that, but Valeri leads the league in game-winning goals with 7. He’s a helluva a defender, too, and to accomplish all of that from the unflashy confines of midfield… c’mon. Without Valeri putting in the season he has (especially with Fanendo Adi out for as long as he has been) Portland has no chance to be fighting for the top spot in the West on the final day of the season.
On this day, Portland dismantled DC in Providence Park, giving the home crowd plenty to cheer about in a 4-0 route. Valeri opened the scoring with his pk, then Alvas Powell got the second half off to a great start with a stunning goal in the 50th minute. Ten minutes later, Sebastián Blanco scored an even more stunning goal from nearly the exact same spot as Powell’s golazo, then capped the game with a ridiculous, patience solo effort with only minutes to go. The victory put the Timbers in second place, with a shot at first next weekend against rivals Vancouver Whitecaps.
Meanwhile in Cascadia, the Seattle Sounders handled FC Dallas in much the same way that the Timbers handled DC, defeating their visitors by the same 4-0 margin. Both teams now have 50 points on the year, two back of first place Vancouver. It is important to note that Portland holds the tie breaker (more wins) over Seattle if the two teams end the season on the same point total after next week’s games.
Vancouver had already clinched a playoff berth before this weekend. Now Portland and Seattle have locked themselves into the postseason along with Kansas City and Houston. San Jose, Salt Lake City and Dallas are all eyeing the West’s final playoff spot on Decision Day.
Portland will be fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference Sunday, October 22, but it will be no easy task. They will have to face first place Vancouver, while Seattle hosts the conference bottom-dwellers, the Colorado Rapids—who, by the way, have only won a single match on the road this season. Vancouver, Portland, Seattle and Kansas City all have a shot at the top spot in the West, but if Portland wins, the top seed is theirs. With a loss on Decision Day, they could finish the season as low as fourth. A draw against Vancouver keeps the Whitecaps on top and allows the Sounders a chance to capture the second seed with a victory against Colorado.
Think that’s a lot of Vancouver/Seattle talk? There’s more. Not only will this game determine the final seeding in the West, it also represents the decisive match in the annual Cascadia Cup. A victory would earn Portland the coveted hardware, while a draw or loss would put the Cup in the hands of rival Seattle.