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Home-field advantage: Team's MVP

Timbers count on fans to help them get three vital points in playoff chase
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Mike Jackson (center, above) leads fans in Section 103 in song during a Portland Timbers-Los Angeles Galaxy game.

When Portland Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins first saw Jeld-Wen Field last January, there was not much to see. Perkins stood in Timbers owner Merritt Paulson's office and looked out at black cement surrounded by trucks and cranes. Over the past 10 months, that hovel has become one of the most home-team friendly stadiums in Major League Soccer.

The Timbers have gone an impressive 9-4-3 at Jeld-Wen, with one regular-season home game remaining (Oct. 14 versus Houston). The energy and excitement fans bring to the stadium has created lifelong memories for the players coaches.

Says Timbers coach John Spencer: 'I really feel probably the proudest I've felt my whole career when I come out here and stand and know that I'm the head coach of this club.'

The Timbers (11-13-7, 40 points) are battling New York, Houston and D.C. United for wild-card playoff spots. In the first round, the 10th and ninth seeds will play away, but the Timbers would get a home match if they advance to the conference semifinals.

'I don't want this Houston game to be the last home game of the season,' Perkins says. 'If we could get one playoff game at home, that would be good. If we could get more than one, that would be even better.'

With the final two matches of the season on the road against D.C. United on Oct. 19 and Real Salt Lake on Oct. 22, the Timbers need to pick up three more points at Jeld-Wen if they want to play there in the postseason. There is nowhere that they would rather have a must-win match, though.

The club wants to make the playoffs for the fans, too.

'I'm in awe of the support that we get here,' striker Kenny Cooper says. 'Hopefully we can finish the rest of the season strong and make sure that they get to see us in the playoffs.'

The fan support at Jeld-Wen is only one reason Portland has been successful at home.

'It could be the Timbers Army,' Perkins says. 'It could be a sold-out house. It could be the fact that you're just at home, sleeping in your own bed, eating your own food. It could be a number of things.'

The playing surface is another factor. The ground crew waters the artificial turf before every match. The slick pitch makes for a faster game that favors the Timbers' style of play.

'We're a pacey team,' Perkins says. 'We're quick. And the surface, when they wet it like they do, makes it a very quick game. It allows us to come out with really high pressure, and it surprises teams.'

The 70-by-110-yard Jeld-Wen pitch is smaller than many others around the league. When the Timbers beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-0 on Aug. 3, the dimensions came under discussion.

'Obviously, (the pitch) was tight,' Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said.

Perkins says that doesn't have a dramatic impact, pointing to last Sunday's 1-0 road win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, who play on a 75-by-117-yard pitch.

'I don't think the (Jeld-Wen) field is that much different,' Perkins says. 'It's five yards narrower than what we played on last weekend. Granted, that could make a big difference, but I don't see it.'

Perkins knows that with Houston (10-9-13, 43 points) clinging to the ninth playoff spot, it will be imperative for the Timbers to come out playing their best.

'It's a crucial time for us,' he says. 'You've got to be fully focused and firing on all cylinders and get three points at home.'

If Portland beats the Dynamo, Perkins says the Timbers will be in the driver's seat for postseason berth.

'If we get three points here,' Perkins says, 'everyone else is pressing the panic button.'