It has been a topsy-turvy week for the Portland Timbers. After traveling to Colorado and logging their poorest performance and worst loss of the year, the boys returned home on two days of rest and beat the first place San Jose Earthquakes.
Unfortunately, the packed schedule has taken its toll on the starting lineup, and now Franck Songo'o, Lovel Palmer, and Rodney Wallace are all likely unavailable for today's game. Songo'o's absence is particularly unfortunate, given the breakout performance he turned in against the league leaders.
Help has arrived, however, in the form of right back Kosuke Kimura, acquired from the Colorado Rapids on Thursday. In addition both Diego Chara and Hanyer Mosquera will be available again after serving their suspensions.
Tonight will be another opportunity for the Timbers to take on one of the league's best teams over the past three years, Real Salt Lake, at a time when they are struggling to find ways to win. Although winless in their last four, RSL have clung to second place in the Western Conference standings, but they are poised to fall if they don't start getting some positive results. The Timbers, for their part, remain within striking distance of the coveted fifth spot and are eager to show that they can get points away from home.
Assessing Our Team
First, definitely take a look at the updates and previews we've posted this week:
The big question coming into today's game for the Timbers is what the defense will look like. With the arrival of Kimura and the return of Mosco from suspension, Coach John Spencer will have more depth in the backline than he's been used to of late. But Spencer tends to have a "go with it until it stops working" attitude towards his lineups, rewarding players for good performances even if other options are available, so it's questionable whether we'll see either in the starting lineup.
With Franck Songo'o out and Kalif Alhassan coming off a hamstring injury, along with the possibility that Jack Jewsbury will return to the central midfield, the midfield is also full of uncertainty and may be shifted around once again. In fact, the only midfielder whose position in the starting lineup seems certain is Diego Chara, who sat out the San Jose game with a card accumulation suspension.
Finally, up top we're likely to see Danny Mwanga continue in his role beside Kris Boyd. Having scored the only goal of the season by a non-Scottish Timbers striker in his previous appearance, keeping him on the bench would seem an odd choice. Mike Fucito's speed and tenacity should once again be reserved to pester tired defenders late in the match.
Predicted starting lineup:
Troy Perkins; Kosuke Kimura, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst, Steven Smith; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Eric Alexander; Danny Mwanga, Kris Boyd
Assessing the Enemy
As usual, check out the previews of Real Salt Lake we've posted this week:
With Jamison Olave still listed as probable for tonight's match, denz from RSL Soap Box predicts that the Timbers will see Nat Borchers return alongside Kwame Watson-Siriobe, the newcomer who made his MLS debut on Wednesday night against the Sounders. The two of them, with Chris Wingert and also-debutant Kenny Mansally, recorded RSL's first cleansheet in four matches. With Tony Beltran returning to the lineup, though, Mansally will probably return to the bench.
The Timbers' primary concern will be Kyle Beckerman, Salt Lake's star midfielder. Though a defensive-minded player, Beckerman plays a huge role in the RSL attack, providing a key outlet for both defensive and offensive players and using his impeccable touch and passing skill to constantly change the point of the attack. Timbers fans will recall that Beckerman scored the winning goal at Jeld Wen Field; we hope the boys in green have taken a lesson from the incident.
The Timbers back line will be fortunate not to have to deal with striker Fabian Espindola, who is serving a card accumulation suspension. In his place alongside target forward Alvaro Saborio will be Paulo Jr, a Brazilian striker who seems to like taking shots from distance.
Predicted starting lineup:
The Portland Timbers are still looking for their first win on the road this season and for their first multiple-goal road effort of the MLS era. After their performance at altitude last Saturday, the lads will be looking to put it all on the field knowing they've got a week to recover. If they can look back at this difficult week having earned six points, they will get a much needed shot of confidence going forward. Even four points, considering the playing conditions, the schedule, and the competition, should be seen as a small victory in an otherwise frustrating first half of the season.
Tonight's match kicks off at 6:00 PM at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. You can watch it live on KPDX.
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Kosuke Kimura, David Horst, Futty Danso, Steven Smith; Lovel Palmer, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury (c); Darlington Nagbe, Danny Mwanga, Eric Alexander
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Kyle Beckerman (c), Ned Grabavoy, Will Johnson, Javier Morales; Paulo Junior, Alvaro Saborio