No rest for the weary it seems, or rather the road weary. The Portland Timbers will, once again, take to the road to play against Sporting Kansas City. The good news, however, is that the Timbers are a far better road team than they were last year, so perhaps playing away from home isn't quite the monumental problem it was in 2011 or 2012. Also, it gives them one more chance to earn three needed points from the road.
Here's the breakdown:
The Timbers are coming off a fairly successful home and away bout against the San Jose Earthquakes. They ended up taking 4 of a possible 6 points from the northern California side and have yet to actually lose to them. That's always nice to see. Unfortunately, history has not been quite as nice with regards to Sporting Kansas City. In three matches, the Timbers have lost two.
If you've been following Will's training reports you'll know that the big news is Will Johnson's absence from training recently. His father is apparently having some medical issues so he departed the team this week to be with him. That said, as far as we know right now, Will is expected to meet up with the team in Kansas City for the game tomorrow. For all we know, that's already happened.
Aside from that, it's pretty much business as usual. Expect Diego Valeri to play, once again, in that central attacking midfield role where he can cause the most amount of damage. Hopefully he's well enough and fit enough at this point to not need to be subbed out in the second half. His contributions were sorely missed last week against San Jose from the 70th minute onwards.
The only other bit of news to share is that Andrew Jean-Baptiste is apparently back to full training. Which begs the question of whether Futty Danso or AJB will start. I'm predicting that it will continue to be Futty. According to Will's most recent training report, AJB missed practice on Wednesday to participate in a scrimmage. My guess is that while he's injury-free he's not back at full fitness yet.
Here's my predicted starting lineup:
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Mikael Silvestre, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace
Sporting Kansas City
The Timbers will be facing one of the league's strongest and most creative sides tomorrow evening. Honestly, I'm not sure the Timbers are yet at the place where they can defeat them. For every solid player the Timbers have, Sporting KC seemingly either bests or equals them. If this were a home game, I would certainly feel much better.
With Sporting KC, everything seems to start from their midfield where they have Brazilian Paulo Nagamura and USA international Benny Feilhaber controlling the ball and getting it up top. This is a dangerous duo to face. Where the Timbers have Diego Valeri playing that role, they have two similar players. Of those two, Feilhaber is probably the one to keep an eye on the most.
Up top, Kansas City apparently plays a similar formation as the Timbers with CJ Sapong on the left and Graham Zusi on the right. These are two very dangerous players. Jack Jewsbury will have to figure out a way to deal with Sapong, who has scored on the Timbers in the past, and Michael Harrington will need to figure out Zusi. Luckily for us, Harrington has payed with Zusi before. He should be well acquainted with most of this team actually. Hopefully that knowledge helps out.
Finally, up top, is Sporting KC's designated player Claudio Bieler from Argentina. In 8 games played he's scored 4 goals. Not much more to say about that. Hopefully, Silvestre will be able to shut him down appropriately.
Oh and one more thing: expect Aurelien Collin to be a major pain in the ass for the Timbers. He's a brute.
Here's their predicted starting lineup:
Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic; Paulo Nagamura, Oriol Rossell, Benny Feilhaber; Graham Zusi, Claudio Bieler, CJ Sapong
It's going to be a very tough game for the Timbers, but certainly not impossible. While Sporting KC seems to be the better team on paper at the moment, they've not had an entirely flawless run in the season so far, having lost twice so far. This should give the Timbers a bit of hope leading into the match. That said, much of it will likely boil down to tactics. Can Caleb Porter figure out the best way to shut down Kansas City? I don't know, but we're certainly going to find out tomorrow evening.