The Portland Timbers are back in the Rose City and set to take on their final Eastern Conference opponents of the season, the Philadelphia Union. With the Timbers still just above the red line it is vital that thy keep all three points from this match.
Coming off a tough, mid-week trip to Costa Rica where the Timbers lost 4-2 to Deportivo Saprissa on Wednesday, Portland must bounce back quickly against a rested Union side. The Timbers kept several key players home during Wednesday’s match and should be reintegrating Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, and Jack Jewsbury into the XI, potentially giving the side the same starting group that we saw in the team’s 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake last weekend.
Where the Timbers may need to make a change, however, is up top after Fanendo Adi took a studs-up boot to the foot as he scored the Timbers’ second goal on Wednesday. Caleb Porter has not ruled Adi out of the match against the Union, but certainly the Timbers need to keep their big man healthy for the final weeks of the season.
If Adi cannot go, expect Jack McInerney to step up and play at the top of the Timbers’ formation, potentially necessitating some significant changes to the Timbers’ approach to this match. Without Adi, the Timbers will need to rely more on both their midfield to shuttle the ball up the pitch, and Darren Mattocks to act as a de facto target man from out on the left wing, forcing him to stay further up the pitch and possibly expose full back Vytas Andriuskevious without his defensive cover.
While the return to Portland will give the Timbers’ some issues to solve on the attacking front, the team should be able to put forward a much stronger and more organized defensive effort than they did against Saprissa. Powell’s contributions to the back line on the right cannot be overestimated, but it is the reintroduction of Jewsbury that should have the most impact on this match.
By bringing Jewsbury back into the lineup, the Timbers introduce a player who is willing to sit in front of the back line and shield them. By doing so, Jewsbury impacts the Timbers’ set up in a number of different ways. First, by staying deep Jewsbury frees up Diego Chara to rove around the pitch, breaking up plays and contributing to the counter without having to worry about keeping a balanced central midfield with his partner. Also, by staying deep Jewsbury allows the center backs to over more ground at the back, pushing wide at times and, in turn, allowing the full backs to push further up the field without leaving gaping holes in behind them for the opposition to exploit.
These few changes significantly alter the Timbers’ game, and if the side can take advantage they could spell a win against the Union.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 3:00 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 10-11-8, 6th place in the Western Conference
Philadelphia Union: 11-10-8, 4th place in the Eastern Conference