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The Portland Timbers needed points to keep their Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes alive, and they more than took care of business, as a first-half penalty made the difference in a 1-0 Timbers win over the Colorado Rapids on Sunday at Providence Park.
The Rapids, entering the game as Supporters' Shield leaders, gave up their edge in that race with the loss combined with Dallas' concurrent win over Seattle. Portland, meanwhile, are on the outside looking in for the Western Conference's final playoff spot, trailing Sporting KC by only one goal on the goal differential tiebreaker heading into a decisive final weekend.
The first clear scoring chance came in the 35th minute, after Rapids defender Bobby Burlingwas whistled for bringing down Portland defender Vytas in the box during a scramble. Fanendo Adi scored from the penalty spot to put the Timbers ahead.
Just a few minutes later, another penalty scenario unfolded, with Vytas drawing a penalty fromMicheal Azira, and Adi at the spot once more. But Tim Howard saved the spot kick the second time around, and despite having another opportunity off the rebound, Adi missed the goal entirely on his second shot.
Colorado's Kevin Doyle had a header bounce off the crossbar in the opening minutes of the second half, and had another shot bounce off the post in the final minutes of the match. In the end, the Rapids could not find the second-half equalizer to notch an all-important point in the Supporters' Shield race.
THEY'RE STILL ALIVE: The Timbers faced essentially a must-win game, and with Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City drawing in another Sunday match, Portland couldn't climb into the Top 6 in the West. But the Timbers did what they needed to keep their playoff hopes alive. If they win at Vancouver – and remember, the Timbers have not won a road game all season – next Sunday and if Sporting KC fail to win their season finale, then Portland will return to the postseason. If Sporting lose outright, even a tie would see Portland back in the playoffs. And as the Timbers know, once you're in the MLS Cup Playoffs, anything can happen.
SHIELD QUEST SUFFERS BLOW: Despite losing, it initially appeared the Rapids wouldn't be in rough shape for the Supporters' Shield race with FC Dallas, as Dallas themselves were losing most of the match before leveling and then taking a late lead against Seattle. Now, the dust has settled and Dallas have a two-point lead over Colorado in the Shield race, with one game to go for each team. The Rapids still have a shot to complete the worst-to-first turnaround with a win and a Dallas loss next week, but they don't fully control their Shield destiny anymore.
ONE MORE THING FOR TIMBERS...: The Timbers have plenty on their plate with the must-win season finale next week, but add to the lot their CONCACAF Champions League group stage finale on Wednesday against Costa Rican powerhouse Saprissa. Portland are still in a battle with Saprissa for the top slot in their group, and they cannot punt on the game if they want to qualify for the CCL knockout stage. With two must-win games, what will Timbers coach Caleb Porter do? His team has the chance to get extra games in two competitions, or see their whole season end with two games in seven days. It's going to be a fascinating week in the Rose City.
POR: Sunday, October 23 at Vancouver (4 pm ET; MLS LIVE | TSN1 in Canada)
COL: Sunday, October 23 vs. Houston (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE)