It's not as if Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer need any extra incentive with their club in the midst of a playoff push. But for the two Portland Timbers defenders — who were acquired in a July trade with Houston for Adam Moffat — Friday's game against the Dynamo at JELD-WEN Field means just a little bit more.
The Dynamo are where the Timbers want to be, and that's in the 10th and final playoff spot with 43 points. A Portland win would not only give Palmer and Chabala bragging rights with their former teammates, but draw the sides level on points.
"This is it," Chabala said after training Monday as the Timbers got back to work following an off weekend. "This is a playoff game. This is what it all comes down to."
For an idea of how much this means to Chabala, the left back said it's something he's been dreaming about.
"This is a home game against a team we're looking to even the score with," he said. "I want them to know what they're missing. I want to go out there and play the best football I can. I want to help my team win. And I want to walk off the field with my head high and give the crowd something to cheer for and to get us one step closer to the playoffs."
Chabala and Palmer were exchanged for Moffat and allocation money in a deal meant to bolster the Timbers back line. Since joining the team, the Timbers are allowing just 0.7 goals per game and have recorded six shutouts.
Palmer took a more diplomatic approach, saying it's just another must-win — a scenario to which the Timbers have become accustomed over the past month as they have bounced in and out of the playoff picture.
"It's just another game with a little bit more importance in the fact that they're ahead of us and one of the teams we need to catch to make the playoffs," the Jamaican said. "The incentive is, if we win the game, we catch them on points and we have a game in hand so we're even that much closer to the playoffs. There is no personal thing. I still have a lot of love for Houston. The staff there, the fans, the players, they've been very good to me. So it's not like, 'Oh, I want to beat them because they traded me.' I want to beat them because it would put the Portland Timbers in a good position for the playoffs."
Although Palmer did admit it would make a win all the more satisfying.
"I'm sure Adam had a great time when they beat us in Houston," he said, recalling a 2-1 Timbers loss at Robertson Stadium in August, "so I would love to have one of those moments as well."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.