The Portland Timbers head back on the road for today's match against the New York Red Bulls. After taking five points from a three game home-stand, the Timbers remain in last place in the Western Conference and are in desperate need of road wins to get their season on track to make the playoffs.
It is hard to say at this point in the season that the Timbers need to start picking up points on the road, but with the team sitting in a three way tie for last place in the West at ten points alongside Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes. As it stands, the Timbers remain trapped in a sort of strange limbo with losses a rarity, but wins even rarer still.
Regardless, with nothing quite working out for them, the Timbers will be forced to change things up for the second consecutive week following the ejection of Alvas Powell in last weekend's 3-3 tie against the Columbus Crew. With Powell suspended, and Michael Harrington still likely recovering from a strained ankle, Jorge Villafana will step into the starting lineup for the first time this season. Villafana, who acquitted himself well in a limited showing against Columbus, will take the left back slot, pushing Jack Jewsbury back into his regular right back poisition.
The changes to the Timbers back line may not end there after another unlucky (or just poor if we are not being charitable) performance from Futty Danso against the Crew, in which the Timbers' centerback gave up a penalty for the Crew's second goal and deflected in a shot to give up their third. Following the early season implosion of Norberto Paparatto, the Timbers seem to be without a truly solid choice to partner with Pa Modou Kah, who has been far from perfect himself.
With the centerback position still up in the air, this weekend could see Rauwshan McKenzie make his way onto the field for the first time this season as the Timbers continue to search for some measure of stability at the back to build around. McKenzie was partnered up with Kah during training early in the week and could provide the sort of solid defending that the Timbers have been short on, at times.
Further up the pitch, the Timbers likely will not change too much on their offensive line. Caleb Porter has emphasized the need to rotate his squad, given the team's upcoming matches on Wednesday and next Sunday as well, which could lead to some different looks. Despite this, it seems most likely that the Timbers would make changed before Wednesday's match against Chivas, rather than against New York.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls, like the Timbers, are off their game from last season. Unlike the Timbers, however, they have not fallen all the way down the table, just several notches down. It is on the road where they have really struggled, posting a mark of 1-3-3 as the team's stars, Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, have often not been available to travel with the team. Unfortunately for the Timbers, this match is in Red Bull Arena where New York has had plenty of luck so far.
Henry has put up three goals and four assists this season, proving once again that he is an ageless footballing demi-god. The Timbers will need to do their best to contain the Frenchman, who will make whomever he is partnered with in the Red Bulls' strike force look like a goal-scoring savant. Much like Kenny Cooper two years ago, Henry has busied himself this year with turning Bradley Wright-Phillips into one of the league's most dangerous strikers with nine goals in twelve games.
Wright-Phillips has, however, accounted for exactly half of the goals scored by the Red Bulls this year, so far. The piece surrounding him and Henry are just not producing this year like they did on the way to winning the Supporters' Shield last season.
Additionally, the Red Bulls' defense has fallen off since last season. Despite having collected four more points in their matches so far, the Red Bulls have struggled on defense, where they have given up nineteen goals, the same number as the Timbers themselves.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 4:00 PM Pacific at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey
Portland Timbers: 1-3-7, 9th place in the Western Conference
New York Red Bulls: 3-4-5, 5th place in the Eastern Conference