The Portland Timbers take on Chivas USA tonight in a surprising six-pointer as they try to climb above the red line and into one of the playoff positions in the Western Conference, a position wholly unknown to the Timbers this year. For their part, Chivas are within inches of being practically, if not mathematically, eliminated from playoff contention and will be looking for a win from this trip to the Rose City to keep their hopes alive.
The Timbers, after several games with a relatively healthy squad, find themselves once again dealing with several injuries in one position. Before it was defenders, now it is the team's attacking midfielders that are suffering as Darlington Nagbe and Gaston Fernandez both work their way back to fitness. Nagbe has been out since suffering an MCL strain, a result of being fouled six times in the Timbers' match against the Montreal Impact two weeks ago. Fernandez, meanwhile, was taken down in last week's match against the LA Galaxy after only 25'.
Although the Timbers are replete with attack-minded midfielders on the bench, the role that Nagbe and Fernandez play, the player that runs the transition from defense into the attack and allows the Timbers to get forward as a group*, is not represented among them. Kalif Alhassan, Steve Zakuani, Michael Nanchoff, and Rodney Wallace all could fill in the two attacking midfield slots alongside Diego Valeri, but none of them bring the same skill set as Nagbe or Fernandez.
Even Valeri will have some questions surrounding him against Chivas as he comes off Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game, along with teammates Will Johnson and Liam Ridgewell. Valeri was one of the top performers against Bayern Munich, linking up with his All-Star teammates, tracking back on defense, and sending in the game winning assist to Landon Donovan. Still, with the weight of the attack resting on his shoulders more than ever, Valeri will need to be on point against Chivas. Thankfully, Valeri has had his fair share of success against Chivas, scoring four goals and providing four assists against the Goats in his five games played against them.
There was some good news for the Timbers out of Friday's practice, however, as Caleb Porter told the press that Fernandez was available and that Nagbe had resumed training without a knee brace. Whether the team decides to risk them against Chivas, however, remains to be seen.
The other end of the pitch will see a Timbers defense looking to put things back together after getting repeatedly beaten by the Galaxy attack last weekend. The centerback tandem of Danny O'Rourke and Liam Ridgewell will likely continue to be the first choice in the center of the pitch this week, but on the outside of the park questions about Michael Harrington's health after going out injured late in the match against LA could see Jack Jewsbury and Jorge Villafana as the Timbers' fullbacks against Chivas.
Looking at Chivas USA's lineup, one name stands above all the others in terms of who the Timbers should be concerned with: Erick Torres. The Goats' leading scorer on the season, Torres has managed to rack up fourteen goals so far this year, earning his spot in Wednesday's All-Star Game where he assisted on Bradley Wright-Phillips' game-tying goal. A threat anywhere around the box, Torres is more than capable of scoring with the ball at his feet but has truly excelled in the air, playing taller than his listed 5'11".
Although the Timbers will need to deal with Torres effectively, the most effective way to shut down the chief Chivas goalscorer is to choke off his service from the wings, something the Timbers have been keying on all week. Leandro Barrera and Marvin Chavez have been Chivas's principal threats from out wide in recent weeks, providing the combination of speed and skill on the ball that has given the Timbers fits at times this year.
Where the Goats will struggle is in their support down the wings, lacking the effective attacking play from their fullbacks that the Timbers most recently saw from Landon Donovan and Robbie Rogers in LA. Recently arrived right back Akira Kaji is a skillful player, but has only been with Chivas for just over one month and played three games with the team, all losses. If the experienced Japanese international can get his teammates on the same page as him, however, he could help lift Chivas out of their current funk.
While Chivas's fullbacks have been of questionable help to their attack, the Goats' first choice centerbacks are currently of no help to anyone as Bobby Burling and Carlos Bocanegra are both out injured. Deputizing for them will likely be youngster Eriq Zavaleta, currently on loan from the Seattle Sounders, and either journeyman Tony Lochhead or former-Timber Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Watch it on: KPTV
Kick off: 7:30 PM
Portland Timbers: 6-7-9, 7th place in the Western Conference
Chivas USA: 6-10-5, 9th place in the Western Conference