The Portland Timbers finally return to action this weekend as they look to take on the Chicago Fire of the Eastern Conference. The Timbers have never lost to the Fire since joining MLS in 2011. Even during their abysmal 2012 season, the Timbers managed to beat the Fire 2-1 at home. In 2011, the Fire was the first team ever in MLS to fall to the Timbers at home and they were the first team ever for the Timbers to beat on the road. History runs well in the Timbers favor for this one, but don't let that fool you. There's a first time for everything.
Here's the breakdown:
The big news heading into tomorrow night's game is just how depleted the Timbers roster is due to national team call ups. Futty Danso, Rodney Wallace, Donovan Ricketts, and Ryan Johnson are all playing in international games this weekend. This, obviously, leaves a few holes in the Timbers usual starting line up.
First, to replace Ricketts, expect Milos Kocic to make his first regular season start. While Ricketts has been incredibly solid throughout the season, I'm actually a bit excited by the opportunity to see Kocic in action against another MLS team. He was solid against the Wilmington Hammerheads despite some lax defending by Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Looking to the center back position, Futty's absence will almost assuredly mean that Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Pa Modou Kah team up together. Kah, for his part, seems to be settling in well with the team, though his knack for booting the ball instead of weaving it through to the midfielders is a bit worrisome. Hopefully he is situating to Porter's style going forward.
Finally, looking up top, expect Frederic Piquionne to start. After scoring an impressive four goals against the Wilmington Hammerheads, he'll no doubt be hungry for more. That said, I don't think he'll have an easy of time against a better organized MLS defense. Still, there's nobody else who would start ahead of him at the moment.
As for Wallace's spot, I'm not sure who takes over for him. My guess right now is that we see the transition to a 4-4-2 a opposed to Porter's usual adaptive 4-3-3.
Everything else looks to be pretty standard. Luckily, the Timbers' midfield should remain solid throughout.
Here's my predicted starting lineup:
If you have yet to do so, I strongly recommend reading my preview interview with the guys at Hot Time in Old Town where they reveal all kinds of insider information on this year's Chicago Fire side.
The big news for this Fire side, however, is the recent acquisition of Mike Magee from the LA Galaxy. Magee, a fringe player in recent years, has seemingly blossomed in 2012-2013. Already, in his two games with the Fire he has scored twice. The Timbers defense, with how much they've struggled already, will need to take special note of Magee throughout. Kocic, especially, should be on his guard.
The Fire also have an impressive midfield, though their current standings wouldn't show that. Lead by the likes of Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz, and Dily Duka this is a midfield that can certain cause problems for the Timbers. Each of these players, actually, has been quite troublesome for the Timbers in the past. Put together they should be a force to be reckoned with.
Here is Chicago's expected lineup:
Sean Johnson (GK), Jalil Anibaba (RB), Austin Berry (CB), Bakary Soumare (CB), Gonzalo Segares (LB), Logan Pause (CDM), Patrick Nyarko (RM), Alex (CM), Dilly Duka (LM), Chris Rolfe (FW), Mike Magee (FW)
Chicago has never beaten the Timbers. Given how close these two supporters groups were prior to the Timbers joining MLS, that's gotta sting a bit. After all, Chicago was the well seasoned team and the Timbers, brand new to the league. Even in 2012 when Chicago made the playoffs, the Timbers still managed to earn a decisive 2-1 victory over them. Knowing that, expect this team to come out hard against the Timbers. They want that first win and, with the Timbers lacking so many regular starters, they could very well do it. Let's just hope the Timbers don't chalk this one up to an easy win.