The Portland Timbers had a rough time of it last weekend as they ventured out of the friendly confines of Providence Park, losing 3-1 to the surging Seattle Sounders. Now, however, the Timbers have returned home and will have the opportunity to host the Sounders in a massive six-pointer with control of the sixth place seed in the Western Conference.
On the form sheet, the Sounders are the team in a better position, having gone undefeated in their last five matches since the ouster of long-time head coach Sigi Schmid, while the Timbers have stumbled in recent weeks, losing four of their last five.
However, the Timbers might just find themselves on the upswing at the same time that the Sounders are dealing with hardship. After a season beset by injuries and absences at every turn, the Timbers come into this afternoon’s match mostly healthy following this week’s return of Zarek Valentin, Ben Zemanski, and Darren Mattocks to training.
The return of this group — as well as there being no possibility of Fanendo Adi missing his flight — gives the Timbers some possible changes from the starting XI that we saw against the Sounders last weekend. Adi is the one certain change to the lineup as he is all but guaranteed to retake his starting spot up top from Jack McInerney this afternoon. The other Timber who could potentially get back in the XI is Ben Zemanski, the Timbers’ first choice partner for Diego Chara in the center of the midfield for much of the season. However, after missing several matches, it seems likely that Jack Jewsbury will retain his place in the XI for the time being.
The Sounders, meanwhile, are coming off a busy week that saw the side head to Houston to take on the Dynamo in a mid-week game before returning to Cascadia to take on the Timbers. Moreover, the Sounders suddenly find themselves without Clint Dempsey in their lineup as the striker is undergoing medical tests for an irregular heartbeat. Dempsey’s absence could be filled by inserting Paraguayan striker Nelson Valdez into the Sounders lineup, but more likely is a reshuffling of the entire Sounders attacking group, bringing in a player like Alvaro Fernandez and likely playing rookie Jordan Morris at striker, rather than out wide.
The Sounders will, however, have new designated player Nicolas Lodeiro on hand for today’s match. The Uruguayan playmaker has been at the center of the Sounders’ late turnaround, notching two goals and four assists in the five games since he arrived in Seattle.
Neutralizing Lodeiro will be central to the Timbers’ game plan today and nobody will be more important to that effort than Diego Chara. While his midfield partner — likely Jewsbury — will be first and foremost a buttress to the Timbers’ back line, Chara will almost certainly take a more active role around the pitch, making life difficult for Lodeiro and potentially shadowing him all across the field for the duration.
However, only paying attention to an individual opponent will not get the Timbers the win that they need to hold on to their playoff slot. Instead, more than just marking Lodeiro, the Timbers will need to impose their game plan on the Sounders as a whole, something that they failed to do last weekend, particularly in the second half, when the Sounders were able to open up the match and take advantage of the gaps in the Timbers’ defensive effort.
This time, the Timbers will need to maintain a cohesive back line and put in the work on defense, all while looking for the counter attacking opportunities that have been their bread and butter over the course of the last year.
Watch it on: ESPN
Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 8-10-8, 6th place in the Western Conference
Seattle Sounders: 9-12-4, 8th place in the Western Conference