Timbers' loud crowd always presents a problem

Perry Kitchen scored his first MLS goal when D.C. United made its inaugural visit to the Portland Timbers last season.

But that's not the midfielder's only memory from United's 3-2 victory at JELD-WEN Field, which in its short history has become one of the toughest places in the league to play.

"I remember last year," Kitchen said. "When a guy is 10 yards away from you, you can yell, but he's not going to hear you."

Up next
D.C. United at Timbers
When » Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
Where » JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore.

That won't change Saturday even though the Timbers (7-15-8) are on the verge of being eliminated from the playoff race and have had a tumultuous second year in MLS. More than 20,000 singing and chanting devotees of the young franchise have helped propel their team to a 7-4-4 record at home.

Add in a narrow artificial surface, and the recipe is a scary one for D.C. United (15-10-5), which remains fragile away from Washington, having snapped a six-game road skid only last week. United plays three of its final four regular-season games on the road and needs points to clinch its first playoff appearance since 2007.

"It's more second balls, more 50-50s, more defending the box," United coach Ben Olsen said. "You have to turn on at every moment because whether it's a throw-in or a quick set piece, you're always 10 to 15 yards from a shot or a cross. It's kind of a helter-skelter place to play."

It has been topsy-turvy for the Timbers, too. Portland saw coach John Spencer fired in July; Akron coach and former D.C. United target Caleb Porter will take over next year. Former United goalkeeper Troy Perkins was traded from Portland to Montreal for Donovan Ricketts. But Ricketts recently went down with a shoulder injury, leaving rookie keeper Joe Bendik to take over. He has two career starts.

Meanwhile, United is riding a winning streak consisting of three gritty, one-goal victories. United's most recent back-to-back 1-0 results were its first consecutive shutouts of the season, a sign of goalkeeper Bill Hamid's solid form and an improving four-man defensive line. Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Andy Najar have started four of the last five matches together.

"It's good to have that consistency back there," Olsen said. "I think that's a sign of success that good teams in our league have and good teams around the world, a consistent back four that understand each other. We've made some good strides ... but we can't be too high on ourselves. We dodged a couple bullets there, but we grinded it out, and we're going to have to do the same in Portland."

United remains offensively challenged without injured Dwayne De Rosario. After scoring at least two goals in each of its first eight wins, averaging 2.88 per victory, United has done so only three times in the last seven wins, averaging 1.86 goals.

"I'm glad we got the wins," United midfielder/forward Chris Pontius said. "I'm glad our defense has kept shutouts. But we know we're a lot better than the way we played the past week. We can play a lot better soccer."