The Portland Timbers return home to Providence Park tomorrow for their match against the New England Revolution, the first of three home games in the month of June. The Revs are flying high with 21 points, enough to put them in second place in the Eastern Conference with a good buffer ahead of their closest competition, while the Timbers find themselves in 6th place in the West -- back above the red line -- with 19 points.
The Timbers will once again be without Diego Valeri, but with the team's defense continuing to stand strong and some spark being shown in the attack from players like Gaston Fernandez and Maximiliano Urruti, all hope is not lost.
The Fernandez-Urruti pairing, with Urruti up top in the Timbers' lone striker position and La Gata playing beneath him in a somewhat deeper than we are used to seeing attacking midfield role, have linked up for two of the Timbers' last three goals: the game winner against D.C. United and the opening goal against the Colorado Rapids. Caleb Porter's talk of finding the "hot hand" in the attack certainly seems to apply here, so it seems unlikely that we will see any changes up top.
While Fanendo Adi remains a viable option, and one that is capable of turning on the goalscoring at any moment, he has struggled consistently in recent matches. With Urruti scoring a goal, creating chances for his teammates and himself, and generally making himself known at forward, it seems unlikely that the Timbers will switch up their current starting forward.
On the wings of the attack, the Timbers have seen a similar upheaval, with Darlington Nagbe moving to the left and Daion Asprilla being inserted on the right in place of Rodney Wallace. The change has given the Timbers' a mirror look to their usual formation with Valeri in the center and interchanging with Nagbe on the right while Wallace stays wide on the left in a winger role; now we are seeing Fernandez in the center interchanging with Nagbe on the left and Asprilla staying wide on the right.
Like the other changes to the attack, this one has looked good and the Timbers will likely stick with it, but Wallace put in a strong showing at the end of the Timbers' last match in his 33 minute substitute appearance and the fact remains that, while the Timbers may have looked good, they were not able to build on their one goal leads in either of the last two matches.
Thankfully, the Timbers' stout defensive corps has continued to hold up their end of the bargain, at this point only allowing an average of one goal per game, still one of the best defensive records in the league.
The back four for the Timbers, with the exception of Norberto Paparatto's appearance in the mid-week match against D.C., has remained unchanged for most of the season so far and seems like a lock to remain the same for this match as well.
The Timbers' holding midfielders, however, have been in a near-constant state of rotation, with Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, George Fochive, and now Will Johnson all getting minutes. This go around should see Chara, freshly returned from his suspension for yellow card accumulation, paired up with Johnson in the Timbers' first choice midfield pairing of the last three seasons.
While Johnson is still working his way back from the Tibia-Fibula break that kept him out for the first third of the season, he is back in playing shape and brings a decidedly different look to the Timbers' midfield than any of the team's other options. With Johnson in, the Timbers have another player that will be looking to get the ball forward and distribute for the attack, rather than simply looking to possess the ball. And, while Johnson may still be looking to regain his full speed following his injury, his willingness to get forward and shoot from distance opens things up for the other players on the team.
New England Revolution
The Revolution come to town missing several key players, but with plenty of possible game changers in reserve. Currently in second place in the East, the Revs have proven themselves to be a team with a diverse group of attacking threats and a strong defense that is prone to the occasional meltdown.
The New England defense is built around four central pieces: holding midfielders Jermaine Jones and Scott Caldwell, and centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves. Jones, a designated player and USMNT fixture, will miss this match due to a groin strain that could also see him miss the Gold Cup with the U.S. as well. That will leave Caldwell, the Revolutions' second ever homegrown player signing and a former Akron Zip, either partnered with the steady but less-dynamic Andy Dorman or as the lone holding midfielder with Kelyn Rowe making his way back into the starting line up.
Without Jones in the center of the pitch, the Revs lose a player who covers the whole of the pitch, providing an excellent shield in front of the defense, while also providing a real danger in the attack.
Of course, the New England attack hardly needs any additional threats, with their lineup already stacked with young, talented players going forward.
The main man to look out for in the New England attack remains Lee Nguyen. Although not putting up the crazy numbers that made him an MVP candidate in 2014, Nguyen is still the creative fulcrum of the Revolution attack, capable of unlocking defenses with his passing or scoring himself if given a half chance.
With Nguyen not scoring at the same clip this year, the burden has fallen to players like forward Charlie Davies. Several years removed from the car crash that nearly killed him, Davies is back to the form that he was showing as a regular with the USMNT. In thirteen games this year, Davies has chipped in 5 goals and one assist, making him the Revs' current leading scorer.
To shut down the New England attack, however, the Timbers will also need to be wary to the threats posed by Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunberry, another former Akron player, on the wings. Both players like to cut inside and shoot, overloading the center of the box and freeing up space for the team's forwards to push forward.
After facing a neutered D.C. and a Colorado side with massive scoring problems, the Revolution will be a significent test for the Timbers' defense.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. pacific at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 5-5-4, 6th place in the Western Conference
New England Revolution: 5-3-6, 2nd place in the Eastern Conference