The Portland Timbers return home for this week's game against the New England Revolution, the second game in a row against an Eastern Conference team. The Portland Timbers recently returned from Sporting Kansas City with three points, earning their first road victory of the season. It's also worth pointing out that the road win was the earliest in Timbers history for an MLS season.
The Timbers have been impressive lately, having gone undefeated since their home game against the Montreal Impact. Can they keep it up? We'll find out Thursday night.
Here's the breakdown:
The Portland Timbers put on an impressive, if flawed, road display last Saturday. With each successive game it seems like their offense is getting more potent, precise and dangerous for the opposing team. This is, obviously, a solid sign of things to come. Unfortunately, their defense has been a little shaky of late. As such, I expect Caleb Porter to mix things up.
Given that the Timbers are still a bit light on central defenders, my hunch is that he'll want to slot Andrew Jean-Baptiste beside Mikael Silvestre once again. The two players have worked very well together and, while Futty was solid against the San Jose Earthquakes at home, he has since been a bit shaky for each successive game. AJB would mark a return to a more youthful and energetic presence in the back line.
One thing to note is that MIchael Harrington and Jack Jewsbury will probably return to their usual positions. Those of you who watched Saturday's game probably noticed Harrington on the right and Jewsbury on the left. This was done to counter specific Kansas City players. There's no reason to believe its permanent.
Turning to the midfield, I don't expect any changes here. Will Johnson, Diego Chara and Diego Valeri are expected to reprise their usual positions. Will Johnson is fitting nicely into that central holding midfielder role. Likewise, Chara has been flexing his creative muscle of late. In the past few games, he's been decidedly more dangerous.
Up top, again, expect the usual suspects: Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson, and Darlington Nagbe. With each having scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City, there's simply no way you can replace one.
Here's my predicted starting lineup:
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Mikael Silvestre, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace
New England Revolution
New England is kind of a mixed bag right now. With 3 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses, it's a little challenging to predict where they'll end up. That said, they have not been a particularly solid road team. Their singular road win came during their first game against the Chicago Fire, one of the worse teams in the league right now and one that was particularly struggling in the beginning of the season.
Looking to their injury report they have a few players as out or questionable who could potentially have an impact. As we all should know by now Kevin Alston, a long time New England player and a consistent starter in recent years, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. We certainly wish him a speedy recovery, but he won't be playing on Thursday. Other players include AJ Soares listed as OUT, and Chad Barrett and Juan Toja listed as QUESTIONABLE.
One player to look out for, however, is Lee Nguyen. From what I've seen, he's been one of the bright spots for New England so far. In fact, in their last game against the Philadelphia Union, Nguyen got an assist on the first goal and then scored the second. The assist, in particular, was very Valeri-esque. Nothing flashy, but a crucial pass at the right time in the right place.
While New England might not be the best team in the league right now, they definitely seem to be finding the right pieces. Will it be enough for a road winning against a surging Timbers however? We'll see.
The Timbers have played against so-called dominating sides for the past few weeks. Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City. In each of these games they were, at least partially, considered the underdogs. We're quickly approaching a point where they won't be considered that anymore against anybody. Certainly for Thursday's game, the expectations on the Timbers will be to win. We've seen before how an underdog team can upset the powerhouse. Hopefully, the Timbers realize this and won't get ahead of themselves.