Neither the Timbers, nor Sporting have won a match yet this season and both sides should be looking to take their first three points of the year in this match. For the Timbers, a win on the road in the month of March would be a big confidence booster as they look to prove that they can compete despite the injuries that have stricken the team.
Through two matches the Timbers look like a very different team than the one that took the field one year ago. Playing against Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy to open the season, the Timbers have gone very direct in the attack and very compact defensively, reigning in their defensive midfielders to shield the back line.
With Diego Valeri and Will Johnson out injured, the Timbers have been forced to change things up, playing two direct attacking players on the wings in Dairon Asprilla and Rodney Wallace, while giving Darlington Nagbe free reign over the center of the pitch. Nagbe, who looked good in the Timbers' first match and great in their second, has been at the heart of the Timbers' best chances to day, including both goals against LA on Sunday.
What has made things difficult for the Timbers in the attack is the void left between the defensive midfielders and the Timbers' attack. With Nagbe's free floating role and the more rigid assignments of the wings and defensive midfielders in the Timbers' most recent setup, teams like LA have been able to break up the Timbers' attacks more easily and build down the pitch out of that space.
Coming into tomorrow's game against SKC, the Timbers find themselves in a position where they are not forced to make any changes to their lineup, but the team remains extremely thin on the bench with Johnson, Valeri, Ben Zemanski, and Michael Nanchoff all unavailable. Even Schillo Tshuma, who Caleb Porter told the press had "turned a corner" in preseason, has been suffering from a sore groin and is questionable as a potential bench player for tomorrow's match.
Despite the limitations imposed by the team's bevy of injuries, the Timbers could make some significant changes to how they approach the match today. By unleashing Chara and giving him license to get further forward down the pitch and involved in the attack, the Timbers could put themselves in a position to bring some of the possession play that much of the team is built toward back into their game plan.
Sporting Kansas City
So far the switch to the West has not been kind to SKC. The Wiz started their season with a 1-1 home draw against the New York Red Bulls, then followed up that up with a tighter-than-it-sounds 3-1 loss on the road to FC Dallas. Kansas City has not looked bad in either of their results so far, but the single point that they have taken is few enough to put them in the basement of the Western Conference to start the season.
Returning home, however, will certainly boost the spirits of the SKC players as they get set to play in front of their generally impressive crowd. In 2014, before SKC began an impressive slide down the standings, SKC went undefeated in their first five games at home, only losing one of their first nine games at Sporting Park.
Of course, when the slide did come, it was not pretty. The home-field advantage evaporated late in the season and Sporting lost five of their last six home games to finish the year barely squeaking in to the Eastern Conference bracket.
SKC have added several important pieces to their lineup this year in hopes of righting the ship after last season's unfortunate but predictable collapse following the sale of lynchpin midfielder Oriol Rosell and post-World Cup slumps from Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.
Joining the central midfield duo of Benny Feilhaber and Pablo Nagamura is Kansas City's prodigal son, Roger Espinoza. After spending two years at Wigan Athletic, Espinoza returned to the US over the 2014-15 offseason and re-signed with SKC for his second stint with the Wiz. Both box to box midfielders, Espinoza and Nagamura pair up similarly to Diego Chara and Will Johnson in the SKC midfield, while Feilhaber is tasked with making things happen in a more creative-attacking role.
While the SKC midfield may have been patched up, there remain some questions about the side's defense and attack, with neither truly standing out in either match so far.
The defense can feel hard done by after Dallas's go-ahead goal was scored from an offside position last weekend, but SKC have not yet looked like they are on the verge of shutting out an opponent. Even in their season opener against the Red Bulls, SKC allowed 14 shots, three more than against Dallas.
Against the Timbers, Sporting will have Besler back following his pair of yellows in week one, but how he reacts following a tough opening week remains in question.
Up front SKC have yet to see the production from their attack that they were hoping for following a prolific 2014 season from Dom Dwyer, when he scored 22 goals for the side. On the front line along with Dwyer is SKC's creative engine in Graham Zusi and newcomer Krisztian Nemeth. Zusi remains a constant danger with his whipped in balls from the right, while Nemeth is more of an out and out forward, playing his trade in and around the box.
Neither Nemeth nor Dwyer seem particularly inclined to play as a second striker, leaving the pair to occupy much of the same areas on the pitch, with Dwyer showing slightly more of a tendency to drop for the ball. Two weeks into the season and the partnership between the two young forwards should be growing, however, and the Timbers' backline will need to be aware of their movement if they can come together.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 5:30 pm pacific at Sporting Park in Kansas City, KA
Portland Timbers: 0-0-2, 7th place in the Western Conference
Sporting Kansas City: 0-1-1, 10th place in the Western Conference