The Portland Timbers are back home to take on DC United in their ninth game of the season tomorrow at Providence Park. The Timbers are still undefeated at home, despite being winless in 2014, but they will face a stiff test from United who have bounced back from a last place finish in 2013 to sit currently in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.
Preview Interview: Timbers vs. United
DC United is on a nice run. Black and Red United lets us know if that will continue on Saturday against Portland.
What can be said about the Timbers that has not already been said? The team have been uninspired even when they are in control of matches, like the first halves of the recent games against the Houston Dynamo or Real Salt Lake. The impending feeling of doom ahead of a second half disaster, ranging from a defensive miscue to a full-blown collapse, remains ever present.
Still, if the Timbers are going to win a game again, ever, this is the time for it. The Timbers are still undefeated at home, despite their best efforts, and have as good a chance of winning this game as any that they have seen so far.
Although wholesale changes to the side are unlikely, the absence of Pa Modou Kah from training for much of this week with a tight hamstring leaves the door open for the potential return of Norberto Paparatto. After some disastrous outings early in the season, Paparatto will surely be looking to earn his starting spot back and atone for his previous gaffs.
Paparatto has previously lined up alongside Futty Danso against Philadelphia Union in the season opener, when Kah was forced to leave the match due to a groin strain, and in the following match against the Chicago Fire as a starting pair. Both matches that the two played together ended as 1-1 draws at Providence Park, with both goals being planted firmly at the feet of Paparatto.
(Note: At practice today, Porter said that Kah is "good to play.")
The other spot that has potential for change is on the left wing, where Kalif Alhassan has been serviceable, but not dangerous. Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri have been contained well by Timbers' opponents this season, only contributing a goal and an assist between the pair, so the team needs a player who will take some of the attacking onus off of them.
To that end we could see further involvement for Michael Nanchoff. Nanchoff has made appearance as a second half sub in the Timbers' last two games, bringing a directness to the attack in his willingness to push forward and goa at goal, something that Porter noted was needed from the Timbers' attackers earlier this week.
Gaston Fernandez, who recently took the starting spot from Maximiliano Urruti at the top of the Timbers' formation, will also be a player that the Timbers look to to take the pressure off of Nagbe and Valeri. By virtue of being the Timbers' leading scorer, Fernandez will draw some attention and hopefully free up space on the wings for the rest of the Timbers' attack.
Black and Red United
Black and Red United
The United side that we see this year will have little resemblance to the lineup that Timbers fans saw last season, although they are still helmed by Ben Olsen. The wholesale changes made to D.C. over the offseason, combined with a smattering of injuries, will leave United with only three of the players that the Timbers faced in last season's 2-0 road win on the pitch tomorrow.
Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon are all talented youngsters that are on the cusp of their prime soccer-playing years, and it is no surprise that all three survived the great purge of 2013. The rest of the D.C. lineup is comprised of players brought in from around the league, picked up from trades and the re-entry draft.
Familiar faces to Timbers fans in this new-look United will include Fabian Espindola, formerly of Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls; Chris Rolfe, formerly of the Chicago Fire; Davy Arnaud, formerly of the Montreal Impact and Sporting Kansas City; Sean Franklin, formerly of the LA Galaxy; Bobby Boswell, formerly of the Houston Dynamo; Jeff Parke, formerly of the Philadelphia Union and the Seattle Sounders; and Eddie Johnson, formerly of the Seattle Sounders.
Up top, United has a forward pairing with a history of torching the Timbers in Espindola and Johnson. Over the last three years, Espindola has racked up three goals and two assists against the Timbers in four appearances, including two goals in last season's home opener, a game that ultimately decided the fate of the Supporters' Shield. Johnson, meanwhile, has scored four goals in five games against the Timbers during his time with Seattle.
(Note: As of this morning, Johnson and Franklin are both listed as questionable. Black and Red United look at potential replacements for Johnson here.)
The pair are supported by the creative play of DeLeon and Rolfe on the wings, with both players dangerous goalscorers themselves. Although both players have a tendency to cut inside, balanced by their forwards' willingness to make runs outside, either is capable of staying outside and sending in crosses, something that United have had some success with this year.
At the back, United have an experienced back four with left back Christian as the lone newcomer to the league. The rest of the D.C. back line boasts a combined 27 years of experience in MLS. Christian is no slouch, however, having played for the last eleven years in Spain's first and second divisions.
Timbers Keys to the Match
- Balance the field. The Timbers are at their best when they can attack from any point on the pitch, rather than simply relying on Nagbe and Valeri to break down opponents. The rest of the team will need to step and create some goals if the Timbers are going to get out of their funk.
- Cut out the mistakes. The Timbers have been solid on defense for 89 minutes of most of their games so far this year. It is the one minute that is killing them, each and every time. If the team can cut out their lapses on defense then the first shutout of the year is a real possibility.
- Know when to push the pace. DC United are experienced all across the field, but they are not particularly fast outside of their forwards. If the Timbers can create some space for a quick attack down the field then they need to make the most of it.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 7:30 pm pacific at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 0-3-5, 9th place in the Western Conference
D.C. United: 3-2-2, 3rd place in the Eastern Conference