After no time at all, the Portland Timbers are already gearing up for another match as they host the Montreal Impact Wednesday evening at Providence Park. The Timbers return from their two-game road trip, which culminated in Sunday's 0-0 draw against the New York Red Bulls, with their unbeaten run intact and extended to seven games.
Now back in Portland, the Timbers need to return to winning matches, rather than simply drawing them. The team's defense has been strong in recent matches, particularly in the Timbers' shut outs of the Red Bulls and the Colorado Rapids in their last two matches, but the Timbers will need to kickstart their attack if they want to work their way up the (as always) tightly packed table in the Western Conference.
Getting the attack going again will not be easy, however, as the Timbers will once again be without the services of "the Maestro", Diego Valeri, as he continues to miss time due to the contusion that he picked up in the Timbers' 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup. Filling in for Valeri at the top of the Timbers' midfield triangle will almost certainly be Darlington Nagbe for the third match in a row.
Unlike the Timbers' last two matches, however, Nagbe and Ben Zemanski will not be joined in the center of the pitch by Diego Chara, who will miss this match due to yellow card accumulation after picking up his fifth of the season on Sunday. Likely replacements for Chara include Jack Jewsbury in a holding role alongside Zemanski, Ned Grabavoy in a more box-to-box role alongside Nagbe, or even Jack Barmby in an advanced attacking role behind Fanendo Adi.
How the Timbers intend to approach this match and how they intend to break down the stout Montreal back line will both play into what selection Caleb Porter makes to fill in the middle of his formation. Of course, the Timbers will also need to fill a hole in the attack as well after Darren Mattocks went down with a grade two hamstring sprain in the first minute of Sunday's match. Again it is Grabavoy and Barmby (but not Jewsbury) who are the probable replacements for the Timbers' left winger.
It seems most likely that the Timbers will look to continue their strong defensive performances and bring in Jewsbury to patrol the center of the pitch, bolstering the back line and allowing Nagbe to get forward. The Impact have made a habit of giving up fouls in inopportune areas this season and, when he is asked to go at players, Nagbe can draw fouls like nobody's business. To that end, giving Barmby the opportunity to start out wide on the wing would give the Timbers yet another weapon in the attack, particularly if he and Lucas Melano are allowed to interchange and go at defenders.
Melano and Barmby on the wings could give the Timbers two players capable of making things happen with individual skill, something that will be very important as Adi will have his hands full at the top of the formation with Laurent Ciman, one of MLS's best center backs. Of course, Adi has a tendency toward tossing around the league's best like rag-dolls, so the Timbers should not count the big man out, but if they can get some production from the wings then things in the center of the pitch will get that much easier.
At the same time, the Timbers will need to be wary and committed of the defensive side of the ball. The Impact attack is full of players who are capable of creating something out of nothing, even in the continued absence of Didier Drogba. Ignacio Piatti, now on ten goals and three assists, is a constant danger as he roams the midfield for Montreal, capable of taking players on, striking from distance, or setting up his teammates. In front of Piatti will be Dominic Oduro, who is known for his blazing speed, but not for his quality in front of goal. Still, Oduro has been Montreal's outlet this season and his ability to run down just about anything has lead to him chipping in five assists so far this season.
Moreover, while there are plenty of individuals who can break the game open for the Impact, the Timbers will need to be most wary of Montreal's predilection from coming back to grab a draw -- or even a win -- at the last second. For the Timbers, putting in a full 90 minutes of effort will be key to coming away with a victory against the Impact.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 6-6-7, 7th place in the Western Conference
Montreal Impact: 6-4-7, 3rd place in the Eastern Conference