The Washington Times - September 30, 2012, 11:26AM

D.C. United may have let two points slip away late in their 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Saturday, but it was a sound result nonetheless.

For as poor as the Timbers (7-15-9) have been this season, their 7-4-5 mark in the narrow, hostile confines of Jeld-Wen Field makes claiming a road victory a dubious proposition. With the point, United (15-10-6) now sit in fourth place with three games to go, two points up on the Houston Dynamo (in the final playoff slot) and three ahead of the Columbus Crew (on the outside looking in).

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As we look ahead, it’s also important to note that United have 48 goals scored, considerably more than Houston (44) and Columbus (39). So barring a scoring surge from either of those teams, D.C. will win any tie in the standings with them.

That considered, six points in United’s final three games (at Toronto, vs. Columbus, at Chicago) will guarantee D.C. its first trip to the playoffs since 2007.

Here are some of my observations from Saturday night’s game:

— As usually is the case at the pingpong table known as Jeld-Wen Field, this was not a pretty game. There wasn’t much flow to the possession, and both goals — Chris Pontius‘ controversial penalty kick and Bright Dike’s scrappy equalizer — basically capped off broken plays.

— The United back line acquitted itself well once more, an aspect of the team’s recent winning ways I touched on in my feature on center back Dejan Jakovic in Friday’s paper. But when a team is absorbing so much pressure, there are bound to be mental mistakes — such as Chris Korb’s intercepted back-pass that Portland didn’t punish, and Andy Najar’s giveaway header that the Timbers did.

— It was another up-and-down effort from Lionard Pajoy, who at times shows nice footwork and vision holding the ball but repeatedly has his touch fail him in the final third. Coach Ben Olsen made a surprising choice late bringing on Hamdi Salihi instead of Maicon Santos — perhaps Olsen is coming back around to Salihi’s upside as a poacher?