This is it. After almost a month of continuous league play and a whole bunch of overwhelming hype, tonight is the night when fans, the Timbers Army, and the world gets to see the Portland Timbers grace their own stadium. This is a HUGE game for us and for many in MLS and around the world. I was even told today that the game is being broadcast live in New Zealand on account of Jake Gleeson and technical director Gavin Wilkinson, both of whom are from New Zealand.
Anyway, if you read my preview of the Chicago Fire that I posted earlier today you'll know that ton ight is bound to be an interesting game, if nothing else. Aside from that the most important part of tonight's match up isn't even the game itself, rather, it's being a part of history. After tonight there will be only one single accomplishment left to celebrate and that will be holding the MLS Cup high over the heads of our rivals.
Forgive me as I drift off in dream-land...
Assessing Our Team
I'm feeling pretty good about our team heading into tonight's match up. While the David Horst injury is a bit of a set back, our guys are coming off of almost two weeks full rest into an atmosphere that will be brimming with the kind of atmosphere that will elevate our guys and intimidate the opposing team.
Additionally, our overall #2 draft pick Darlington Nagbe should be a first team starter tonight as well should Sal Zizzo, who was pulled from the New England Revolution game after he reinjured himself against Toronto FC. That said, here's who I believe will be starting in tonight's match up:
Jake Gleeson; Rodney Wallace, Kevin Goldthwaite, Eric Brunner, Steve Purdy; Darlington Nagbe, James Marcelin, Jack Jewsbury, Sal Zizzo; Jorge Perlaza, Kenny Cooper
I think I'd personally prefer it if Futty Danso came in for Goldthwaite and Ryan Pore for James Marcelin. The latter has been criticized a little too heavily in my opinion over the last few games as he was playing as a winger and not central like he was the two years prior. I believe he deserves and honest attempt at the central midfield position.
Assessing the Enemy
I wrote my entire preview on the Chicago Fire this morning so if you're looking for something more in depth I urge you to read that instead.
The Chicago Fire are coming off a 2 - 1 defeat against the Seattle Sounders over this past weekend. This means that should be feeling a little less confident and, quite honestly, a little tired.
Beyond their physical mentality, Chicago is a team remade for this season with around 16 new players having been added over the offseason. That said, one of my personal favorites of the Chicago Fire last year, Marco Pappa, remains on the team. I expect him to be playing every bit as well against us tonight as he showed last year.
A couple other players to look out for would be Diego Chaves, who has already scored 3 goals this season, and Gaston Puerari who has been speedy and very dynamic in the first few games for Chicago. Our backline will have to watch Diego Chaves in particular as he's not one to tough it out if he gets knocked even slightly. Expect him to make the most of MLS's physical play, if you catch my drift.
This is going to be an interesting game and one that I honestly can't really predict. I'd say the Portland Timbers are heavily favored going into the match up, but, given the weather today and a rocky start to the season, I wonder if we're still missing that midfielder piece that would make us a true threat.
I'm going to go ahead and call this one for the Portland Timbers, but it's probably mostly out of sentiment than actual belief. Regardless of the result, I hope everybody has a fantastic time tonight, whether you're at the stadium or rooting from home.
Tonight's game starts at 8:00 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.