Finally a game to break the monotony of the "I hate Gavin" vs "Let's wait and see" argument because that horse hasn't been shot, beaten, dragged behind a car, beaten some more and then left out in 100 degree weather. What a game it is too! A battle for the wooden spoon (for those of you who don't know what that is check this link out). So let's take a look at what Portland and Toronto will bring to the table.
The Timbers will in if: They can eliminate the defensive mistakes and/or Ricketts returns to his 2010 form. In the last 3 games Portland has put in good defensive performances but had 1 huge mistake which cost them either 1 point or the full 3 points. In order to win on the road Portland needs to play mistake free defensively and this might be the toughest thing for a couple of the players to actually do but it needs to happen, especially with how anemic Portland's offense has been.
Tactically the Timbers defenders need to keep their shape when the ball is up the field because when Portland turns the ball over going from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 requires the back four to be in position to slow the opposition down. If the defenders are out of position it spells trouble for the Timbers and allows Toronto exploit a lot of space.
The Timbers will lose if: They allow Toronto to have any confidence and time on the ball. Toronto is a team built to control the ball and to play the ball to a target forward, usually Danny Koevermans but now it is Eric Hassli, and if they get momentum by having time and space they can score. If Portland starves Hassli of service and is physical with him Portland has a chance of winning. If they lose Hassli and make a mistake he will punish Portland.
The Timbers will win if: Someone can step up and fill the creative role Franck Songo'o had taken over in the last few games. In his absence I would assume Kalif Alhassan would get the start but this is a road game and Gavin Wilkinson and crew may elect to go with a more defensive minded line-up, which would mean Rodney Wallace could get the start. When Portland transitions into their attacking third Darlington Nagbe or Diego Chara will need to be ready to hold and then distribute the ball to the wings or to Kris Boyd. Nagbe has gotten better with actually attacking his defender rather than retreating and if he continues to show improvement Portland could come away with their first road win.
The wings will be key in this game as Toronto is really susceptible to a good run behind their defense from an outside player. If the wings can get behind the defense and then find Boyd in the box Portland will have a good day. Of course this is all predicated on the ability of Nagbe and Chara to find the wings and hit a ball behind the defense.
The Timbers will lose if: They allow Torsten Frings to dictate how Portland will play. Frings is a good player who likes to impose his will on the other team and can win a lot of the balls played up to the attacking players. He is also very physical which could turn out to be a problem for Nagbe as he has yet to show he can deal with a physical defensive midfielder. If Nagbe and Chara cannot join the attack or hold the ball due to Frings then Portland's offense will be stagnant and easy to anticipate, which will then lead to more pressure on the defense to keep a clean sheet.
The Timbers will win if: Kris Boyd moves off the ball and actually gets service when he does make those runs. Nagbe, Chara and to some extent Songo'o have not been hitting a lot of through balls to Boyd and this has made it difficult and frustrating for Boyd. Yes, Boyd doesn't move outside of the 18 yard box lines but he still can be dangerous in that area of the field if someone actually hits a through ball. With KAH possibly starting this means Boyd could see more of those through balls behind the back line where he can take a shot and more early crosses from KAH. Either way the service and Boyd's energy have to be better for Portland to pull off a win on the road.
The Timbers will lose if: Toronto's back line can keep everything in front of them. A lot of the highlights that go against Toronto have someone streaking in from the wings to get behind the defense and if they can eliminate that from this game they have the offense to score and grab the three points.