The Portland Timbers will finish their three game run of home games off tonight with an evening match up against the Columbus Crew. It will be a match between two struggling teams looking to build some momentum. The Timbers are in their best run of form of the year so far, going undefeated in their last three matches, including the team's only win, while the Crew are in somewhat dire straits.
For the Timbers, the deciding factor in their preparations this week has to have been the impending absence of Diego Chara and Michael Harrington, both of whom went out injured in last weekend's match against the LA Galaxy. In their place Caleb Porter has all but confirmed that Ben Zemanski and Alvas Powell will step in to the starting lineup.
The addition of Zemanski in place of Chara will bring an important change to the center of the pitch for the Timbers. More of a defensive midfielder to Chara's box-to-box mid, Zemanski will certainly tend to stay home more often than not, leaving Will Johnson free to attack out of the midfield more often than he might in the more balanced arrangement alongside Chara. This could put the Timbers' captain in a position to show off some of the finishing that highlighted his performances last season, but it will also make the Timbers attack somewhat less flexible and fluid.
The addition of Powell as a fullback in the right flank will have a similar effect on the Timbers's defense. In this case, however, Powell is a much more attack-minded player than any of the other players along the Timbers' back line. To that end, it will be the responsibility of both Jack Jewsbury to curtail his own runs and the Timbers' center backs to diligently watch the space left open behind Powell when he does get forward.
The other potential change to the Timbers' starting XI is at forward, where recently arrived Fanendo Adi is prepared to fight for minutes with Maximiliano Urruti and Gaston Fernandez. The odds of Adi getting the start today after arriving in Portland only three days ago are extremely low, but he arrives in shape and could definitely make the bench for tonight's match. Adi adds a direct option for the Timbers that the team has struggled without this season and he could make an appearance if the Timbers are chasing the game and looking for a late goal.
The Columbus Crew started off 2014 with a bang, winning their first three games handily. Since then, however, the Crew have struggled, failing to win in their last seven games. Now with a record of 3-4-3, the Crew are in the worst form in MLS over the last five games, barely ahead of fellow collapsees FC Dallas and Toronto FC.
Not only is the team's form poor, their goal scoring has suffered as well. Coming into today's match, the Crew will have been held without a goal for 321', their last one coming against the New York Red Bulls at the end of April in one of the Crew's three 1-1 draws over their long winless stretch.
When Columbus have scored, the majority of their goals have involved playmaker Federico Higuain. Higuain has already chipped in four goals and two assists over the first third of the season and is undoubtedly the Crew's most dangerous player. Shutting down Higuain is the first step for any team attempting to get three points against the Crew and it will be no different for the Timbers tonight.
Further, the Timbers will need to keep Columbus's role players from getting involved with the match. Joao Arrieta is one of the Crew's primary threats and his two goals so far this year are good for second place on the scoring chart for Columbus alongside Bernadro Anor.
At the other end of the the pitch, Columbus have been hit hard by recent pre-World Cup call-ups. Michael Parkhurst and Shawn Francis will both be missing from the defense. Giancarlo Gonzalez has also been called up to national team camp, but was given dispensation to stay with the team until after Saturday's match. The loss of two of the team's three starters on the back line opens up some big cracks in an already struggling Columbus defense, something that the Timbers will want to take advantage of, despite their own missing players.
Keys to the Match
- Maintain balance at the back. With the necessary changes to the lineup the Timbers will need to be more vigilant than ever of their spacing as they compensate for some new faces and the new dimensions that they bring to the line up.
- Shut down Higuain. It cannot be emphasized enough: the Timbers need to shut down Columbus's Argentine playmaker.
- Push the attack. The Timbers ceded control of the match against the Galaxy last weekend and looked significantly worse for it. If they Timbers want to win, they need to take control of the game and put the patchwork Crew defense under pressure from the first whistle.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 7:30 PM Pacific at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 1-3-6, last place in the Western Conference
Columbus Crew: 3-4-3, 6th place in the Eastern Conference