The Timbers find themselves in a strange position heading into this match against the New England Revolution, needing to turn around and immediately fly to a different continent entirely to take on Guyana's Alpha United in CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday. The quick turnaround and long journey have prompted teh Timbers to travel their entire roster on this trip, with the probable exception of George Fochive who is recovering from a knee injury.
Who the Timbers select for tomorrow's match against the Revs may not be effected significantly by Tuesday's match, Caleb Porter has said that the league matches are the priority, but it is hard to imagine that it will have no impact at all in how things play out.
Although we have already take some potshots at the rosters for tomorrow and Tuesday here, it remains to be seen if a desire to send one of the team's two main playmakers, Gaston Fernandez or Diego Valeri, to pull the strings in Guyana will limit their minutes on the pitch and if Porter believes that the Timbers can win this game without them.
A vital part of this equation will be the health of Darlington Nagbe. Without him the Timbers are sorely limited in their potential lineups, but it remains to be seen whether Nagbe is able to contribute, three weeks after an MCL sprain suffered against the Montreal Impact caused him to miss his first matches in two and a half years. If Nagbe, who returned limited training with the rest of the team earlier this week, is able to play for the Timbers, he will take significant pressure off Fernandez to be on the pitch for extended minutes against New England and greatly increase the ability of the team to send a veteran attacker to Guyana.
Of course, the focus for the Timbers players is squarely on the game at hand, not looking past that to the Timbers' first ever match in the CCL, and certainly no Timber will be looking forward to getting back on the pitch as much as Diego Valeri. Having scored in each of the TImbers' last four games, in which the team went 3-1-0, Valeri is arguably the hottest player in MLS currently, rivaled only by Dallas's Fabian Castillo who has a goal or an assist in each of his last five.
All of Valeri's form will mean nothing, however, if his supporting cast do not continue to step up and create chances of their own. Last week Rodney Wallace and Fanendo Adi put their mark on the team, while two weeks before it was Darlington Nagbe and Maximiliano Urruti who took control of the game.
New England Revolution
The Timbers are running into the Revs at what might be a low point for them in recent years, despite some truly terrible moments in 2011 when they battled the Vancouver Whitecaps for the wooden spoon. To get an idea as to the mindset in New England, check out the despondent responses in our preview interview with the Bent Musket.
There are plenty of reasons for fans to feel bad about New England: eight losses in the last nine games, getting shut out in four of those eight losses, and most recently losing to the New York Red Bulls, a six point match that saw New York leapfrog the Revs and push them below the red line in once decisive match. If the Timbers take any of those into account, however, they will be leaving themselves vulnerable to a talented but under-performing side.
There have been some bright spots for the Revolution so far, despite their recent struggles, and none has been brighter than midfielder Lee Nguyen. With eight goals and two assists to his name this season, when the two next highest scorers on the team are on four goals each, Nguyen has been the team's most dangerous player for the majority of the season. Still, even Nguyen has hit a dry spell in recent weeks, scoring only once during New England's last eight losing efforts.
In the team's lone win in the last nine games, however, Nguyen came alive, dropping two goals and an assist on the Colorado Rapids two weeks ago as the Revolution beat them 3-0. The result, the best that New England have managed since their 5-0 drubbing of the Seattle Sounders in early May, saw New England's attack start to spark and show signs of the dynamic attacking play that made them a playoff team last year.
Moreover, the Revs' shutout was the first they had since the match against the Sounders and saw their attack and defense working together to shut down a misfiring Rapids side.
New England, when functioning properly, has a very similar look to the Timbers, moving the ball quickly, playing passes between skilled, technical attackers, and generally wearing down their opponents with possession. Last season, when the two teams met up, the opposing interpertations of "dominating football" ground each other down and resulted in a 0-0 draw. This year form may be decidedly on the side of the Timbers, but the talent gap between the two teams is certainly exaggerated by recent results.
Watch it on: KPTV
Kickoff: 4:30 PM PT at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA
Portland Timbers: 7-7-9
New England Revolution: 8-12-2