The Portland Timbers come into today's match against the Columbus Crew in a rough patch of form that culminated last week in the team's 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. Now on the road, the Timbers will be looking for all three points from their final match against Eastern Conference opposition with the dreaded red line all that is separating them from falling out of playoff position.
Let's start with this: how the Portland Timbers will approach this match is a mystery. After two good performances from his side against the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City while playing a distinctly direct style, Caleb Porter switched things up for the match against the Red Bulls. Making five changes to the lineup and aiming for a more grounded possession style, things went to pot against New York in just the second home loss of the year for the Timbers.
All that adds up to a big question mark for this afternoon's match. With the full side healthy and available, Porter could go just about any direction with the team. Who will start up top? Fanendo Adi or Maximiliano Urruti? Will we see Will Johnson and Diego Chara paired up in the midfield again after their borderline disastrous showing on Sunday? How does Lucas Melano fit in to all of this?
Matched up against a Crew side that likes to play attacking, possession-based football, it would not be surprising to see the Timbers go with a look similar to what we saw against Kansas City. Putting Adi up top with Valeri behind him and Lucas Melano out wide gives the Timbers a group that is capable of breaking quickly down the pitch and potentially pouring on the chances. While the Timbers were not able to find the break through against Sporting, facing a much more fragile Columbus back line could finally see that attacking group pay dividends.
Unlike the match against Kansas City, we will likely see Will Johnson and Diego Chara paired up in the midfield. Porter is not generally one to make a change to his lineup just for the sake of shaking things up and, with players like Ethan Finley and Frederico Higauin in the Columbus midfield, the mobility of Johnson and Chara will be necessary to slow down the powerful Crew attack.
While the pairing struggled against New York, the loss will hopefully have lit a fire under Johnson and Chara and the week back together after spending the better part of a month not playing together will hopefully have helped with some of the organizational woes that hampered the Timbers on Sunday.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. PT at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, OH
Portland Timbers: 11-10-8, 6th place in the Western Conference, WDLDL
Columbus Crew: 13-9-8, 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, WWLWW