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Portland Timbers @ Philadelphia Union Preview and Match Thread [4:30 PM]

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I've said it a about a hundred times now on this blog, on Twitter, and in person: this is a huge road game for the Portland Timbers. Looking ahead toward the remainder of the season, the Timbers only have three home games and four away games left (after today's match). The problem is that playing away against the New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps, D.C. United and Real Salt Lake aren't going to be easy. Vancouver doubly so because the Timbers are opening their new home in BC Place for them.

So to win against a Philadelphia Union team that's been trending down these past few weeks away from home would go a long ways towards ensuring that the Timbers make this year's play offs... something that every team strives for in MLS. Not that it will be a lock if they do win, mind you, just that the road will be easier...

Let's check out each team.

Assessing Our Team

The big news this week is that the Timbers haven't played a competitive league match since August 24th. That was over two weeks ago. Due to Hurricane Irene, the Timbers got a longer than expected break during the season. Nobody quite knows how that will affect them once they get on the field later today. On one hand they could be well rested and ready to take on any team in the league, especially after a particularly brutal August month. On the other hand, going that long without playing can cause a team to lose its competitive edge...

Aside from that there's really no news to report. I'm fully expecting Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza to be the front men tonight on account of Eddie Johnson still being out with a concussion. As always I'd like to see Cooper use his size and physicality to muscle his way into the box instead of flopping around, something he's actually been getting better at in recent games.

The only other thing to note is that Troy Perkins was placed on the injury list as "PROBABLE" for some hip soreness. I don't think he'll miss tonight's game but it'll be something to look out for.

Here's my projected starting line up:

Troy Perkins; Mike Chabala, David Horst, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Sal Zizzo, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza

Assessing the Enemy

Yesterday, when I spoke to Scott Kessler of the Brotherly Game we talked primarily about two guys: rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath and front man Sebastien Le Toux. For good reason too as the former is only 20 years old and allowed in 4 goals during the previous match against the New England Revolution, while the latter got a brace that helped pull Philly back from the brink in the same match.

I think, ultimately, both will be very important in today's game. MacMath, while he wasn't directly to blame for a couple of those goals, he still seemed to lack the leadership abilities to effectively command his backline into doing what he needed them to do. In a sense, Philly's backline is what ultimately cost them the game, but MacMath wasn't able to position them correctly as a veteran keeper might.

On the opposite side, Le Toux has had a fairly unimpressive season up until Wednesday's game. He currently sits at 6 goals, two of them from the midweek game and the other four from penalty kicks. That said, he does lead the team in assists with 8 so perhaps his contributions this year have been less about goalscoring and more about getting the ball to players like Roger Torres and Danny Mwanga. We'll see later today...

Finally, just one more thing that has to be noted, the Union are currently on game three of a string of exhausting games. The first played Real Salt Lake in Salt Lake City last weekend where they lost. Then they had a midweek game against New England that was 4-4. While I can't say for certain whether this will affect their play tonight, I'd say that any team that has that kind of harrowing schedule/results in the span of 7 days is probably feeling a little run down.

Here's Philly's projected line up:

4-1-3-2 Zac MacMath; (r-l) Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf (C), Gabriel Farfan; Brian Carroll; (r-l) Veljko Paunovic, Freddy Adu, Keon Daniel; Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga

Keon Daniel is confirmed to be out for today's game due to visa issues. I don't know who will replace him.

Final Thoughts

There's not much more to say. Three points tonight would further solidify Portland in that 6th in the west position while at the same time leaping over the New York Red Bulls and coming even with Philly and the Houston Dynamo in the east for one of their 2 wildcard play-off spots, provided New York and Houston don't win today. What's essential now is getting three points from as many road games as possible and each of the three remaining home games. Without those home wins I'm not sure if the Timbers are long for this year's play offs.

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Tonight's match kicks off at 4:30 PM on ROOT SPORTS.