The Portland Timbers are back on the road after their most recent three game homestead and are set to take on Sporting Kansas City in what will surely be a pivotal moment for the Timbers’ playoff push. The Timbers were only take four out of the nine points on offer at Providence Park, so getting results on the road — especially against teams so close to them on the table — is vital.
Despite the importance of this match the Timbers will be arriving in Kansas City short handed, missing Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers from the heart of their back line. Borchers is out for the rest of the season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon against the LA Galaxy last weekend, while Ridgewell is suspended following his injury-related absence from the MLS All-Star Game on Thursday.
In their place, the Timbers will likely run out the center back pairing of Amobi Okugo and Jermaine Taylor for the first time this season. The match will be Okugo’s third appearance for the Timbers and his first start since joining the side in May. Of those two previous appearances, only his 46 minute substitute appearance against the Galaxy was of any substance. Taylor, on the other hand, has been a regular in the center of the Timbers’ defense this year as the team has continuously dealt with the absence of their preferred starters.
At full back, new arrival Vytas Andriuškevičius is not yet fit and ready to step in, so expect Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin to fill in out on the flanks.
That back line, along with Jake Gleeson in goal and the pairing of Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski at holding midfield, will have plenty to deal with from the newly high-scoring SKC attack. Team leading scorer Dom Dwyer has been a consistent threat this year, having notched ten goals in 22 games, but more recently the scoring has been coming from throughout the side, particularly at home, where SKC has scored eleven goals in their last four matches.
In particular, the Timbers will need to be on the lookout for SKC’s service in from the flanks, where they have a tendency push their full backs forward into the attack and send in service from the wings, something that Taylor and Okugo — both strong aerial presences — should be able to deal with.
The Timbers, of course, are undefeated in their last four road matches, having managed draws against the Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, and New York Red Bulls. Still, the Timbers have yet to win on the road in 2016, a trend that they will need to reverse in the final twelve games of the year. In order to do that, the Timbers will need to get things going on attack as well as playing shut-down defense.
Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri will need to be at their inventive best in this match, while Fanendo Adi and Lucas Melano will need to be on the look out for the counter. In 2016, SKC has been known to be susceptible to being caught off balance by teams that can striker quickly down the pitch, so if the Timbers can get on the same page, opportunities should be there on the break.
Watch it on: FOX
Kickoff: 11:00 a.m. PT at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, MO
Portland Timbers: 7-7-8, 7th place in the Western Conference
Sporting Kansas City: 9-10-4, 4th place in the Western Conference