This season's beginning took a rather hard left turn last week when the Portland Timbers fell to the worst team in the league: the New England Revolution. Worse yet, it wasn't even as if New England dominated the Timbers (although the Timbers certainly weren't inspiring by any stretch either), but rather that the Timbers just all around lacked the energy to finish the game in their favor. Very frustrating, to say the least.
But enough about last week, because tonight is a chance to forget all about it as they prepare to face off against Real Salt Lake, a team that is largely considered to be the best in the league at the moment. The good news though is that the Timbers are currently 1-0-1 against RSL and have yet to be beaten by them, despite their impressive run of form over the last few seasons. At the very least, let's hope that inspires some confidence.
So, with that said, let's take a look at each side.
Assessing Our Team
I'm a bit tired of talking about it, but the central defender role in the squad continues to be the biggest issue as the Timbers just can't seem to catch a break here. With Hanyer Mosquera going out with a concussion in last week's game, Futty Danso still being out for a few more weeks due to his broken foot, and David Horst just barely starting to make his way back into practices our center back is looking a bit haggard... something I was hoping would be fixed for this season.
Expect to see Eric Brunner paired up with rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste once again tonight. Should one of them come across the bad mojo that seems to be hanging around our back line I'm not really sure who would be brought in to replace him. Depends on the bench I suppose, but suffice it to say it would not be ideal for anybody involved should that happen. That said, I have been impressed with AJB these past few games. I initially thought he would be a reserve player for the first year, but he's certainly showing that he can be competitive in the regular season.
The other bit of news concerns youngster Kalif Alhassan who went out with a minor groin injury this week and, as such, was forced out of a couple practices. No telling if we'll see him today, but my bet would be him at least sitting out on the bench. My hope is to see Darlington Nagbe return to his former right winger position where I've always liked him.
Finaly, two players I don't want to see tonight are Rodney Wallace and Eric Alexander. I'm not writing them off entirely, but their performances last week were not indicative of a winning team. Instead I'd rather see a combination of Mike Chabala, who's much more defensively minded and Franck Songo'o. The latter, however, is still listed on the injury list so I'm not sure if he'll make it.
Here's my predicted starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Lovel Palmer, Eric Brunner, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Mike Chabala; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury (c), Franck Songo'o, Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd
If Songo'o doesn't make it then I expect Alexander will be back in.
Assessing the Enemy
As usual, if you have yet to read them check out my own preview interview with RSL Soapbox's Denz as well as Ryan's preview on what the Timbers need to do to win against Real Salt Lake. Both should give you a solid idea of what to expect tonight.
That said, I don't expect tonight's game to be an easy one simply because the Timbers are playing at home again. Real Salt Lake lost here last year and I'm sure they're aching to prove that it was more of a fluke than anything else. They're also currently rated as one of the best, if not the best, team in the league at the moment so it'll be a hard fought game no matter what.
They're also one of the few lucky teams to have an injury list that's only a couple names long, compared to the Timbers which almost looks like a cruel joke at the moment.
The difficult thing about Real Salt Lake is that they're not based around a single, or a few player(s), a la LA Galaxy/New York Red Bulls. They're an incredibly deep team that can put pressure almost anywhere on the field and that makes them very dangerous. Of course, as usual, Timbers fans should be keeping an eye on Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman in the midfield. Also youngster and new RSLer Sebastien Velasquez as he's been featured very prominently in RSL's three games so far.
Here's there expected starting line up:
Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil, Javier Morales, Paulo Jr., and Fabian Espindola
The Timbers were off to a good start in the season and, truth be told, it can still be turned around very easily with another 3 points tonight. It won't be easy, as I've mentioned, but it's certainly possible and a comeback win against the #1 ranked team in MLS would be just the thing to send the guys against Southern California rivals Chivas USA (at home) and then the LA Galaxy (away from home).
Tonight's game is being broadcast on ROOT Sports.