After a weekend off, the Portland Timbers are on the road this week, heading to Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on Lee Nguyen and the New England Revolution. While the Timbers have seen their fair share of troubles in recent weeks, the team is coming off a strange but encouraging win over the San Jose Earthquakes and will be looking to build some momentum before they return to Providence Park this weekend.
The Timbers current sit in just 8th place in the Western Conference, having accumulated only eight points from seven games so far this season and having so far failed to find their first win on the road: a strength of the team in their MLS Cup winning 2015 season. The Revolution, meanwhile, are in 7th place in the East, having taken only eight points from eight games. The Rev's only win so far has come at Gillette Stadium, where they are undefeated in 2016.
As has been the case for much of the season so far, there are some genuine questions about how the Timbers will line up tomorrow. With injuries and suspensions running rampant throughout the Timbers' roster so far this year, tomorrow's match is guaranteed to see yet another batch of changes to the lineup.
Starting at the top, the Timbers are likely to see Fanendo Adi back in the starting lineup, despite Jack McInerney's strong performance in the Timbers' 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Moreover, the Timbers are most likely going to stick with the single striker system against the Revolution as they look to hit the New Englanders on the counter, rather than switching to a 4-4-2 system that would allow the Timbers to put on both of their strikers at once.
Flanking Adi will most likely be Dairon Asprilla, recently returned to the side after an unspecified foot injury kept him off the pitch for several weeks, and Lucas Melano. With both players being naturally right footed but approaching the game in different ways, who plays on which wing will be greatly impactful in this match. With the Timbers almost certainly looking to break down the Revolution on the counter, it will be vital for the Timbers to have Lucas Melano in a position to run at players and get in behind the defense; to that end, the Timbers will want Melano lined up on the right and ready to go at Chris Tierney, the more offensively minded on the two New England fullbacks. Teams able to do this have been able to pull the Revolution back line out of shape and find cracks in an otherwise solid defensive unit.
This approach will put some pressure on right back Zarek Valentin as he continues filling in for Alvas Powell, who is out following wrist surgery, but the defensive minded fullback should be up for the challenge as long as Nat Borchers and Diego Chara are on hand to cover for him.
The Timbers' other area that should see some changes from last match is in the center of the pitch where Darlington Nagbe should make his return following a surprisingly short absence as he recovered from Nigel de Jong's absurd stomping tackle two weeks ago, which earned the Galaxy midfielder a three game suspension from the MLS disciplinary committee -- despite only being awarded a yellow card at the time.
Nagbe comes back, however, at the same time that the Timbers will be missing 'The Maestro' Diego Valeri as he serves his one game suspension for picking up two yellow cards against the Earthquakes. The loss is one that the Timbers have dealt with previously and will necessitate moving Nagbe into a more advanced playmaking role in the center of the pitch. Backing him up will be Chara and either Ned Grabavoy or Jack Jewsbury. Ben Zemanski also appears to be back in match fitness and could play a role in this one, but the likelihood of him getting a start is slim after his recent absence.
The choice between Grabavoy and Jewsbury is an intriguing one as the Timbers face down a Revolution midfield that is undeniably talented but that has struggled to generate goals so far this season. Playing Grabavoy would push Chara into a purely defensive midfield role as the former NYCFC man is certainly the more attack minded of the two possibilities and would give Nagbe someone off of whom to play quick combinations in the center of the pitch. Jewsbury, on the other hand, would bring more of a defensive role to the pitch, allowing Chara to push down the field and get involved all over the place.
Regardless of who starts for the Timbers, they will have their work cut out for them in this one and will need to put forward a strong effort to break down this Revolution side who have allowed only one goal in three games at Gillette Stadium so far this year.