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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Portland's path to second place in Western Conference is clear, though competitors will take their shots

The Portland Timbers slipped up on Saturday at San Jose.

On an Avaya Stadium field that was riddled with divots, the Timbers struggled to find their rhythm in a 2-1 loss to a desperate Earthquakes team.

But they didn't lose ground in their quest to finish in the top two in the MLS Western Conference and avoid the one-game knockout playoff match. Seattle and Sporting Kansas City also lost, so the three teams remain tied for second place with 47 points — four points behind first-place Vancouver.TIMBERS

Sporting KC has four games left, so that could be an advantage. But it will play three of those on the road, including games this week at Minnesota and at Houston while key players Benny Fielhaber, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler are with the United States national team trying to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

The Timbers' Darlington Nagbe also was called into the national team, but since Portland is idle he won't miss any MLS play.

Seattle, like Portland, plays its last two matches at home. The Sounders face desperate FC Dallas and a Colorado team that is out of the playoffs.

First-place Vancouver has three games left: at the New York Red Bullls, at home against Real Salt Lake and at Portland.

Technically, Portland hasn't clinched a playoff spot yet. But the only way they don't is by losing both of their remaining games — which would be a major upset. The Timbers are 9-2-4 at home this season. DC United, last in the Eastern Conference, is 3-11-2 on the road.

• The biggest surprise at San Jose was that Diego Valeri didn't bury a shot from 12 yards in the fourth minute (he sent it high). Valeri had scored in a league-record nine consecutive games before the loss at San Jose.

• Portland coach Caleb Porter said he thought Darren Mattocks' goal in the 83rd minute should have counted. Mattocks was ruled offside. TV replays suggested he was onside — but the key is that it wasn't a clear and obvious mistake. That, as it should be, is the standard for a video review to change a decision on the field. We understand Porter's frustration, but since MLS began using video review in August, VAR has helped the Timbers on several important calls.

• The Timbers have scored a goal in 19 consecutive matches. That's the longest current string in MLS. It's also one shy of the 20 consecutive matches with a goal by the original North American Soccer League Timbers in 1975.

• Sebastian Blanco has six goals and six assists. He is the second Timbers player to have at least six goals and six assists as a MLS rookie, joining Valeri (10 goals, 13 assists in 2013).

• Vancouver got a big win over the weekend at Sporting Kansas City, ending SKC's 24-match unbeaten run at home. Erik Hurtado, out of Beaverton's Westview High, provided the only goal with a nifty volley on a long ball over the top of the defense.

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