It's going to be weird only having a single game next week, although to be perfectly honest, having three games in a single week is not only exhausting for the players and coaches of the Portland Timbers, but also for yours truly. All this typing can send a severe cramp through my pointer finger... ahem. Anyway, tonight is our third and final game for this specific stretch. We're currently at a single win and a single loss thus far so we'll be really looking to convert tonight's game into a success and add three points to our tally. Do so would move us up to third place in the Western Conference, even if it's only for a day.
Looking in to tonight's game, despite Philadelphia's impressive streak, I'm feeling rather confident that the Portland Timbers will be able to secure a win against last year's silver medal winning league bottom dwellers.
Let's scope out the two teams:
Assessing Our Team
As I stated above, the Portland Timbers are coming off a loss against the San Jose Earthquakes last Tuesday. It was a hard fought battle that went on up until the 120th minute. It was also not the regular starters for the Portland Timbers. Sure, head coach John Spencer can say that he put in the team he believed would win (and they almost did!) but as fans we can look at the team put forth and instantly see the differences between the two teams put forth.
Tonight's game will mirror last Saturday's regular season game and not Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match. Here's my expected starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Jeremy Hall; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza
You'll probably remember that this was the exact line up we saw last Saturday and for good reason. Anytime you beat a marquee team like Real Salt Lake, you know you have a winning formula. This is also a squad I can see going toe-to-toe with most other MLS teams as well, the Philadelphia Union are no exception.
Assessing the Enemy
You've probably already taken a look at my new, different preview thread concerning the Philadelphia Union. If not I urge you to check it out as Scott Kessler from the Brotherly Game sheds some light on Philadelphia's success thus far in this season.
Truth is that the Philadelphia Union have played far better this year than they did last. Their defense is more orchestrated and their goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is fast making a name for himself as best in MLS. While this might have seemed like one of the Timbers easier match ups heading into the season, it's quickly turned into anything but.
There is one thing, however, that I've noticed about the Union. Of all their games, they've only won away from home a single time thus far, and that was their opening game against the Houston Dynamo on march 19th. Since then they've not been able to secure three points away from home. Additionally, so far this season teams traveling across more than three time zones are 0 - 11 - 9. Entirely winless. This could just be statistical mumbo-jumbo, but it's worth mentioning none the less.
Here's Philadelphia's predicted starting 11:
Faryd Mondragon; Michael Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams; Keon Daniel, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres; Carlos Ruiz, Sebastien Le Toux
This isn't a game that I'm particularly worried about. We've got our primary starters and with each week our midfield and defense are becoming more and more solid. Philadelphia might be on a hot streak right now, but I still don't place them in as high regard as Real Salt Lake, the Los Angeles Galaxy, or New York Red Bulls. That said, it will still be crucial for the Portland Timbers to effectively shut down Sebastien Le Toux before he starts any of his trickery.
Expect a gritty, physical game tonight.
Tonight's match kicks off at 7:30 PM. You can catch the game live on Fox Soccer Channel or Match Day Live, which is 100% free this weekend.