The Portland Timbers host Sporting Kansas City tonight in a matchup that could see either team move past the Seattle Sounders and into fourth place in the Western Conference; more importantly, a three points here for either team would be vital for holding off the San Jose Earthquakes as they try to force their way back into the playoff picture.
With the Timbers and SKC both missing players due to call ups, injuries, and suspensions, this match will see two intact attacking units take on depleted defenses under pressure.
For this one the Timbers find themselves missing a significant part of their first choice defensive group. On the back line Liam Ridgewell is out after picking up a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation, while Alvas Powell will miss the match having just played 90 minutes for Jamaica last night in their 4-3 win on aggregate over Nicaragua in World Cup Qualifying.
For the second game in a row, the Timbers midfield will also be missing a pair of players as Diego Chara serves the second match of his two game suspension for elbowing Houston Dynamo player Erick Torres in the neck during their 2-2 draw against the Timbers. The Timbers' other first choice holding midfielder, Will Johnson, will also be absent, having played 90 minutes and scored a goal for Cananda last night in their 4-1 aggregate win over Belize in World Cup Qualifying.
In the place of Ridgewell and Powell, expect Norberto Paparatto and Taylor Peay to step in to the back line. Paparatto, despite his issues in 2014, has been a quality 3rd center back for the Timbers this season, and has not seen the pitch in a losing Timbers effort since August of 2014. Paparatto's aggressive ball winning pairs well with the organizational tendencies of Nat Borchers, with the pair working well together in their lone pairing, the Timbers' 4-1 romp over the Sounders in June. Peay, despite seeing his first MLS minutes this season, is still very much an unknown quantity at the first team level. An undeniable athlete with the skill to get forward, Peay has been known to be taken advantage of by skillful players and will need coverage from the midfielders in front of him and center backs behind him.
For their part, Chara and Johnson will once again have the midfield pairing of Jack Jewsbury and George Fochive step in for them. After a strong performance in the Timbers' unfortunate 2-1 loss to the Sounders last week, Jewsbury and Fochive have shown that they have a solid understanding in the midfield that should serve the Timbers well as they seek to take the game to their opponents tonight.
While the Timbers' defense is in upheaval, their attack is fully intact and, for the second game in a row, we will likely see the Timbers putting all of their most highly touted attackers on the pitch with Diego Valeri in the center, Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Melano on the wings, and Fanendo Adi as the target man at the top of the formation.
The Timbers' scoring woes (29 goals in 27 games) are well documented, but this group took 22 shots against the Sounders and looked good doing it. Although it rings somewhat hollow at this point in the season, there is no reason that this attacking group from the Timbers cannot start pouring in the goals, particularly if they can take advantage of a depleted Kansas City back line.
With Darlington Nagbe looking increasingly confident (and actually having scored two goals this season), Diego Valeri really starting to look like the Timbers' best player once again, and Melano and Adi starting to play off each other in a way that will get both into good goalscoring situations, the Timbers should be capable of scoring goals in bunches. And whether they actually do or not will likely be the story of the season.
Watch it on: KPTV, MLS Live out of market
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 11-9-7, 6th place in the Western Conference
Sporting Kansas City: 11-7-7, 5th place in the Western Conference