The Portland Timbers are back on the road and headed out East to take on the Chicago Fire in a rematch of the two teams' preseason meeting in Portland that ended in a 2-0 Fire victory. Both sides have struggled since then and are each below the red line in their respective conferences as the Timbers dealing with injuries and the Fire trying to find their way under the guidance of a new coach, but both teams are now coming into this match after a win and will be looking for more with a spot in the playoffs still a possibility at this point in the season.
For the Timbers the same old questions are being asked. Who is healthy? Who is with the team? And how will Caleb Porter put together a lineup with the side's current absences?
With the Timbers having headed to Chicago on Thursday and practicing in the Windy City today, answers to those questions are not easy to come by. Fanendo Adi, the Timbers' leading scorer, reportedly traveled with the side but will likely be a game-time decision after not practicing earlier this week. Similarly, new signing Amobi Okugo appears to have traveled with the Timbers after playing sixty minutes with T2 last weekend, but his overall fitness and lack of matches this year make his a definite question mark for inclusion in the 18, let alone the XI.
There are also plenty of players who will definitely not be with the Timbers for this match. Injuries will keep Darren Mattocks, Adam Kwarasey, and Alvas Powell off the pitch, while Darlington Nagbe and Jermaine Taylor will be away with their respective national teams for the Copa America.
The absences of Nagbe and Taylor are the new subtractions in that group and replacing that pair will provide two distinct challenges for the Timbers. Taylor, who had been lining up at left back for the Timbers, will be directly replaced by Chris Klute, leaving the Timbers thin defensively on the bench but not greatly impacting the quality on the pitch. The loss of Nagbe will be a very different prospect. Ned Grabavoy, Dairon Asprilla, or even Jack Barmby could step into the XI for Nagbe, but each one of those players would greatly shift the Timbers approach to the match in different ways.
Playing against a strong defensive side in Chicago, the Timbers will need a player who is capable of breaking down a packed in block of nine and creating space for the likes of Diego Valeri, who will have to shoulder an ever increasing amount of the Timbers attacking burden. Asprilla, assuming that he is back in Porter's good graces, could be particularly adept at this, especially if he is deployed in a primarily wide role, giving the team more space in which to work in the center of the pitch.
Defensively, the Timvers will need to contain the Fire's individually skillful but collectively misfiring attack. Shutting down players like David Accam and Kennedy Igboanike on the break will be particularly important, as the speedy pair have accounted for six of the Fire's nine goals so far this season. The Timbers' back line will likely be pushed high up the pitch in this one as they look to contain Chicago and dominate the possession, so extra care will be needed to keep the fire from getting in behind them, especially with Jake Gleeon in goal rather than the more proactive Kwarasey.