Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
No, really. It's true. The Portland Timbers have yet to lose in 2012 at home against an Eastern Conference opponent.
Granted, the Timbers have played just four matches at home against Eastern Conference opponents, but they have gone 3-0-1 in those matches, and 3-3-3 against the East overall. Timbers fans don't have a lot going for them this season, so we have to take what we can get.
United are riding a three-game win streak in spite of the absence of Canadian star midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. His MCL sprain will keep him out for the rest of the season, but so far it hasn't mattered. That win streak gave DC 50 points, leaving little chance of them missing the playoffs. The main goal at this point is to avoid the single elimination play-in by finishing the season in third place or higher.
D.C. United are pretty healthy aside from De Rosario and veteran defender Daniel Woolard, who has been out with concussion symptoms since August. They will not be missing any players due to suspensions or disciplinary actions.
DC has been a decent defensive team this year (although somewhat less so on the road), anchored by US International goalkeeper Bill Hamid and centerback Brandon McDonald. With 20-year-old former Akron Zip Perry Kitchen in the defensive midfield role, the center of the pitch will provide another formidable challenge for Darlington Nagbe.
In the fullback positions, fellow Akron product Chris Korb covers the left wing (unless he is, for some ridiculous reason, replaced by Mike Chabala), with Andy Najar on the right. Najar, a 19-year-old converted attacker, is perhaps most well known for this 2011 goal but has yet to score in 2012. Look for Franck Songo'o to use his strength and size to exploit a potential mismatch with the 5'7" Najar down the left flank on Saturday.
The absence of De Rosario certainly hurts DC United, but they have plenty of other quality players participating in the attack. As we learned from Geoff's interview with Martin Schatzer, Chris Pontius in particular has stepped up in De Ro's absence, contributing two assists and one of his team-leading eleven goals in the past three matches. Attacking midfielder Branko Boskovic has also stepped up in the past three games, with a goal and an assist.
Recently acquired from the Philadelphia Union, Lionard Pajoy has become a mainstay at the top of the DC formation, occasionally lining up alongside longtime FC Dallas striker Maicon Santos. Pajoy will be making his second appearance at Jeld Wen Field, after making his first MLS start while playing for the Union.
In the midfield, Pontius, who has been running opponents ragged on the left wing, is paired opposite right wing Nick DeLeon. DeLeon opened his MLS career by scoring three times in his first seven appearances, including this one in his first MLS start -- he also contributed three assists during the first two months of the season. Since late April, however, DeLeon's rookie campaign has cooled, with just two goals and one assist.
Getting an away win at Jeld Wen Field is no small feat, even for a playoff-bound team like DC, and the absence of their star playmaker won't make the task any easier. Portland's defense will need to overcome their usual inconsistencies, but the offense, buoyed by the crowd, should find some good opportunities to score.