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Timbers must get road wins to make playoffs

Victory over Chivas puts Portland in postseason position
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Eric Brunner heads in the Portland Timbers' goal as they defeat Chivas USA 1-0 at Jeld-Wen Field.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Portland-D.C. United game originally scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 27 has been postponed due to Hurricane Irene. MLS says an announcement on a new date for the game will come next week.)

Minutes before Wednesday's Major League Soccer match between the Portland Timbers and Chivas USA, Mike Golub shrugged when asked about the playoffs.

'We're in the hunt,' the Timbers' chief operating officer said, 'but we have to jump over a few teams.'

Not anymore.

With its 1-0 victory at Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers (9-12-5) leaped over Chivas and into a tie for the 10th-best record in the league.

The top three teams in each conference, along with four wild-card teams, make the postseason.

Portland now has 32 points, matching New York in the slot for the final wild-card slot. Chivas and D.C. United - the Timbers' next opponent Saturday at Washington, D.C. - are a point back with 31.

What the Timbers must now do to make the playoffs in their maiden MLS season is something they haven't done much of all year - win on the road.

Portland has five of its eight remaining games away from home. The Timbers are 8-4-2 at Jeld-Wen and 1-8-3 on the road this season.

'We're formidable at home at times,' coach John Spencer said. Against D.C. United, 'we'll try to get the performance so we can stay in this position or move up.

'We have as good a chance as anybody at the eighth or ninth position. I don't think we're just hanging on to the 10th spot.'

Of the eight remaining opponents, only four are sitting in playoff spots, so that's a good thing.

But the road record is a bugaboo the Timbers are going to have to deal with.

'If we get hot. ... get on a streak ... we're in a good place to be,' Golub said. 'We're a young team in its first season. To be in the playoff discussion at this point in the season, we're pleased, but we'd certainly like to make the playoffs.'

It has been a wildly successful season from a foundation standpoint.

The Timbers have caught the fancy of what was known as 'Soccer City USA' in their days in the North American Soccer League in the late 1970s.

Every home game has been listed as a sellout - 18,627.

They have sold about 13,000 season tickets, with a waiting list of another 3,000.

For two of the final three home games, some of the seats currently closed off atop the north grandstands will be opened up, increasing capacity to 20,323.

The problem is, the concourse on the west side of the stadium - the side not renovated in the expansion - is jammed on game nights. It can't handle much more traffic.

'We want to make sure the fan experience is great,' Golub said. 'We'll monitor it for those two games, see how things move. We'll see what the experience is like, and make a decision if that's what we want to do on a regular basis next year.'

Golub wouldn't say whether the Timbers have made money in their first MLS campaign, even with the run of sellouts.

'There's been so much initial investment,' he said. 'This is about the long-term growth of the franchise, both on and off the field. We had to put the pieces in place.

'We've had incredible support. It's been a really great ride. We're trying to keep on the right trajectory, doing the right things for the future.'

The Timbers Army was rollicking as usual Wednesday night, and the visiting Goats noticed.

'It was really fun,' Chivas forward Justin Braun said. 'It's always fun to play in stuff like this. It's cool to see a city get behind a team so much. You want to play in this kind of atmosphere.'

The record hasn't been great. There was the shocking 3-0 upset of the Los Angeles Galaxy, a 1-1 tie at Seattle, a 4-2 win in the home opener against Chicago. Now it's time for some improvement on the road, if the playoffs are to become reality.

'We've had our ups and downs,' Golub said. 'We've had some magical moments, some heartbreaking moments. That's sports. That's soccer.

'We like the foundation we've built. We like the pieces we have. We're on the right track.'