Fresh off a scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers will be looking to earn some points and start climbing the ladder in a still remarkably packed-in Western Conference. With the bottom seven teams in the conference all occupying the same five point band, the Timbers are only a few good results away from a move into playoff contention.
Of course, to get those good results the Timbers are going to need to elevate their game after an understandable but disappointing nonetheless start to the season.
At the defensive end, the Timbers remain solid, having managed four shutouts in nine games and allowing only 0.89 goals per game so far this year. The back four of Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, and Jorge Villafana have been solid this year and we should not expect any changes there. Powell remains just one yellow card away from a suspension due to accumulation, but the Timbers' young fullback is only one match away from having that total reduced by one thanks to the good behavior incentive.
The pair on holding midfielders in front of the Timbers' defense, Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara, also look set to remain constant in tomorrow's match. The pair have generally been key components in the Timbers' defensive efforts, although they have less often gotten mixed up in the Timbers' anemic attack. The only real threat to break this pair up is the returning captain, Will Johnson, but at this point he is still working to prove that he is able to play a full 90 minutes if called upon and is not likely to be in the 18 for tomorrow's match.
Unlike the back six, the Timbers' front four will likely see at least one change this weekend as Diego Valeri nears starting fitness for the first time since his torn ACL at the end of last year. After playing 38 minutes as a substitute in his season debut last weekend, Valeri should be on track to get his first start of the year against the Impact. Although Caleb Porter was unwilling to confirm that Valeri would be in the starting XI, 45 to 60 minutes of Valeri still sounds pretty good.
Who will surround Valeri, if he gets the start, is another question entirely. Darlington Nagbe is a given and the pair will certainly spend time switching out the central and right wing roles, but who the Timbers play up top and on the left remains to be seen.
Out wide on the left it seems that the Timbers will likely give Rodney Wallace another start, looking to recapture the scoring magic of 2013 and late 2014. This leaves newcomer Ishmael Yartey and explosive right winger Dairon Asprilla, who is recently recovered from surgery to stabilize a broken wrist, on the bench for the Timbers. Asprilla has been a decided difference maker for the Timbers off the bench early in the season and looks like a good bet to come on for Valeri early in the second half, while Yartey has yet to find himself on the bench at the start of the game, but could prove to be a difficult player to deal with for defenders if the Timbers need a sub who can provide an attacking burst late in the match.
At this point we can take for granted that the Timbers have abandoned the 4-4-2 with the strikers they have on hand, so it remains up to Fanendo Adi and Maximiliano Urruti to battle it out for the starting spot. Urruti has been at the top of the formation for the last two games as Porter has looked for the "hot hand" to get the Timbers out of the scoring slump that has consumed them, but the Timbers have failed to score in both of those matches, including on Urruti's point blank header that flashed over the bar against the Whitecaps last weekend. Adi, meanwhile, has been looking dangerous as a substitute, although he too has missed chances on goal.
Both forwards have had their issues this season and it really is a toss up as to which will start. With the Timbers taking on a Montreal defense that is still a surprisingly unknown quantity, it is hard to say which striker will match up better. Neither has seemed to stand out in the week's limited training sessions.
The Impact have only played four matches in MLS so far this season; their most recent match in MLS was a 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo back in early April. Since then, Montreal have played three matches outside of league play: their home and away loss in the CONCACAF Champions League Finals to Mexico's Club America and Wednesday's 1-0 win over Toronto FC in Canadian Cup play.
That win over Toronto could be a defining moment for the Impact in this weekend's match. Getting a win after being played out of the grounds at home in the final 45 minutes of the CCL Finals could put Montreal back on track and give them the confidence to re-enter MLS successfully, or the proximity of the two matches could catch this Montreal side out after playing very few games over the course of the last three months and facing a Timbers side that come into this one on a full week's rest.
The lineup that Montreal ran out on Wednesday against a mostly second-choice Toronto side looks very similar to the expected lineup against the Timbers, with several notable exceptions.
Ignacio Piatti and Andres Romaro, the Impact's pair of newly(ish) acquired Argentines, did not get the start against Toronto, but will almost certainly be in the XI against the Timbers. Piatti, who arrived late last season and scored four goals in six matches for the Impact, is central to any sort of offensive success that the Impact might have. A deadly striker of the ball and a good passer as well, Piatti will need to be shut down by the Timbers' central midfielders in this one.
Romero, meanwhile, is a quick and skillful winger that the addition of Piatti has made all the more dangerous. Although he has been with Montreal since 2013, Romero only recently had his contract acquired by the Impact after being on loan for his first two years with the club.
Other danger-men for Montreal include Dominic Oduro and Jack McInerney, both of whom played in Wednesday's match. Although generally not thought of as a clinical finisher, Oduro is a speedster who has been running MLS defenses ragged for years now. Although sometimes listed as a forward, Oduro generally lines up on the wing and uses his pace to get in behind the backlines of his opponents. McInerney, meanwhile, is the opposite: a scrappy and industrious striker with the instincts to be in the right place at the right time.
There has been some speculation, however, that McInerney will not get the start; instead, rumor has it, a familiar face to Timbers fans will be out on the pitch: Kenny Cooper. The 2011 Timbers leading scorer has bounced around the league in the last four years, playing with the New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, and most recently arriving in Montreal. In that time, Cooper has remained a solid goalscoring threat in MLS, scoring 27 goals, although 18 of those came while playing alongside Thierry Henry in New York. Three of those goals have come against the Timbers.
If Cooper were to play, he would give the Impact a slightly different look than McInerney at the top of the formation. Cooper, while less likely to get on the end of a rebound or tuck home a ball bouncing in the penalty box, is certainly better at holding the ball up and creating his own chances than McInerney.
The defensive side of things for the Impact remains up in the air so far this year. With a rotating group of central midfielders, the Impact have yet to settle on the pair in front of their back line, playing some combination of Callum Mallace, Nigel Reo-Coker, Patrice Bernier, Marco Donadel, and, another former Timber, Eric Alexander. With the exception of the more offensively inclined Alexander, the midfield tend to stay back in a similar shape to what we have seen out of Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara this season so far, giving Montreal a solid block of six at the back to win the ball and launch the counter attacks that got them through the Champions League.
Despite often looking to pack in the defense and hit their opponents on the break, the Impact have not yet looked particularly good defensively, with the lone exception of their parked bus against Club America in Mexico. In league play the Impact have given up six goals in four games, a rate that is higher than everyone else in MLS save the Philadelphia Union and TFC.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 1:00 pm pacific at Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Portland Timbers: 2-3-4, 8th place in the Western Conference
Montreal Impact: 0-2-2, 10th place in the Eastern Conference