With one game left in their qualifying run in through the CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage, the Portland Timbers are in Honduras and set to take on CD Olimpia. With a three point lead in the group and plenty of positive goal differential, the Timbers just need to not lose by more than one if they want to advance.
The Timbers took a full compliment of players to Olimpia with an eye toward Saturday's match against FC Dallas. Although the Timbers have lost several players to injury since their last round of CCL match, the team still has the depth to make some significant changes.
The lineup has been depleted enough that the Timbers will need to make some tough choices going into the match, choosing who will get a full week's rest and who will play.
The core of the Timbers' lineup for tonight's match will likely be made up of the team's usual bench players. Gaston Fernandez has been at the center of the Timbers' progression through the CCL so far and likely will be again for tomorrow's match as well. Joining Fernandez in the attacking quartet will almost certainly be his fellow Argentine Maximiliano Urruti and occasional bench player Michael Nanchoff.
Who will join them in the attack, however, remains up in the air. The Timbers could either go with one of their usual starters, bringing in Supporters Player of the Year Diego Valeri or sputtering wunderkind Darlington Nagbe to join the lineup, or potentially give a try to youngster Schillo Tshuma. Given the state of the Timbers' season, the use of one of the regular starters seems like a much more likely occurrence and should go a long way toward assuring that the team advances.
The defense will face a similar situation, with a group of bench players and occasional starters set to step in. On the outside will likely be Michael Harrington and rookie Taylor Peay. The center of the defense also seems set with Norberto Paparatto suspended on Saturday and therefore a lock to play here and Rauwshan McKenzie, who played alongside him in the Timbers' previous win over Olimpia, also set to play.
Despite facing off against the Timbers once already back in September, Olimpia remains an unknown quantity for most. The team that Olimpia brought to Portland for the first match up between the two teams featured some first-team players, but was also heavy with youth in an attempt to capitalize on the Timbers' early season issues with pacey attackers.
This time around, the Timbers will likely face more in-form, more organized full first team from Olimpia. In their recent four match unbeaten run in league play, the side that Olimpia has been fielding has held only a passing resemblance to the side that the Timbers faced.
Only five of Olimpia's starters from their match against the Timbers featured for the side in their most recent match. Noel Valladares, the team's long-serving keeper has continued to backstop this Olimpia side, and his defense is largely unchanged from what the Timbers saw previously. However, of the midfield and attacking players that the Timbers faced, only German and Carlos Will Mejia have featured.
That is not to say that Olimpia have completely removed the youth from their lineup. 18 year-old Alberto Ellis, who went the full 90' and scored in Sunday's 2-2 draw against Marathon, has scored four goals in eight appearances for Olimpia this year.
Watch it on: FOX Soccer Plus
Kickoff: 7:00 PM PT at Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino
Portland Timbers: 3-0-0 in CCL Group Play
CD Olimpia: 2-1-0 in CCL Group Play