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Portland Timbers at Toronto FC Preview and Match Thread

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It has been ten days since the last time we had a Portland Timbers game to watch, but with the changes that have been made in the interim, it seems like an eternity. Emotions will be running high for the Portland faithful today, as, for the first time since April 2011 -- a run of 51 league matches -- a Timbers game will start without Troy Perkins in goal.

No other Timbers player has come anywhere close to being so constant a presence on our team -- and I think no player has so embodied the spirit of the team, in good times and bad -- as Perkins. He has, after all, referred to the team as "an extension of my family." In that vein I hope Donovan Ricketts forgives us if it takes fans a little while to adjust to seeing someone different wearing the light blue keeper's kit.

But the world keeps on spinning. This afternoon, after taking just one point from four games against the Western Conference's worst, the Timbers will try their luck against the worst team in the East, 123 days after they scored their last goal away from home.

Assessing our team

Interim Head Coach Gavin Wilkinson has been working with a relatively stable lineup for the past several weeks, going with a 4-1-4-1 and keeping Brent Richards and Franck Songo'o consistently on the wings. Today's lineup will be different. In addition to the goalkeeper change, Wilkinson will be without Songo'o, who is serving a card accumulation suspension. It will be interesting to see what changes are made in the midfield to cover Songo'o's absence.

Defensively the Timbers' starting four should be fairly certain, in spite of Steven Smith being held out of a practice last week. In fact, Chris Taylor is the only Timber currently listed on the injury report, although I would suspect Eric Brunner still won't be available. The only real question is whether the Timbers will once again take advantage of a fixture in a Commonwealth Nation to try out a player ineligible to work in the US -- this time the team's new New Zealander, Ian Hogg.

Lovel Palmer and Steve Purdy are also unavailable for today's match, as a result of international commitments.

Predicted Starting XI:

Donovan Ricketts; Kosuke Kimura, David Horst, Hanyer Mosquera, Steven Smith; Brent Richards, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Rodney Wallace; Kris Boyd

Assessing the enemy

Toronto FC, already in the midst of a dreadful season, will be as short-handed as they have been all season this weekend, with ten players unavailable. Four players are listed on their injury report, one is serving a suspension, and five are training with their national teams.

But as bad as their season has been this year, Toronto has pulled off a few surprises. They advanced further than any other MLS team in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League, and they won yet another Canadian Championship as well, qualifying for another go at the CCL in 2012-13. And they've repeatedly beaten up on a strong Vancouver Whitecaps side this year, winning two and drawing one.

That won't be an excuse for the Timbers losing, though.

Predicted Starting XI:

Milos Kocic; Ty Harden, Richard Eckersley, Adrian Cann, Ashtone Morgan; Eric Avila, Aaron Maund, Torsten Frings, Reggie Lambe; Eric Hassli, Luis Silva

Final Thoughts

There's a lot of frustration right now in Timbertown in light of the recent trades of popular players, not helped at all by some of the words Gavin Wilkinson used with reference to Troy Perkins.

Whether the Timbers front office deserves the harshness being thrown their way on Twitter is irrelevant at this point. In the wise words of Don Draper, "If you don't like what is being said, then change the conversation." Get a win, and you'll do just that. It won't wash away the valid concerns the fans have about the direction the organization is heading, but it can't hurt either.

Today's match kicks off at 4:30pm PDT and will be broadcast on ROOT SPORTS, as well as on the radio at 750 AM.

Mexico vs USMNT kicks off a half hour later on ESPN 2, so my suggestion is to get to a bar with at least two televisions.

Starting Lineups:

Toronto FC:

Milos Kocic; Ty Harden, Richard Eckersley, Adrian Cann, Ashtone Morgan; Reggie Lambe, Torsten Frings, Aaron Maund, Eric Avila; Luis Silva, Eric Hassli

Portland Timbers:

Donovan Ricketts; Kosuke Kimura, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst, Steven Smith; Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe; Sal Zizzo, Kris Boyd, Rodney Wallace