The Portland Timbers may no longer be perfect in 2017, but the side are still 2-0 with a plus six goal differential at Providence Park and they will look to keep that stellar home record going against the visiting New England Revolution in this weekend’s Sunday night match.
The chances of preserving that record will be given a boost by the return of Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman from international duty. Both players are key pieces in the Timbers’ formidable front six and their re-insertion into the lineup will immediately make the side more dynamic going forward and stouter in defense than the group that we saw take on Columbus Crew SC in last weekend’s 3-2 loss.
Of the pair, it will likely be Guzman whose return is most immediately noticeable. While Nagbe’s contributions to the Timbers’ possession and attacking game are indisputable, the Timbers’ defensive corps remains depleted with Liam Ridgewell and Vytas Andriuškevičius likely still out injured — dramatically overstaying their projected time away from the pitch — and no replacement for Gbenga Arokoyo yet in place. This makes Guzman’s ability to shield the back line, allow the center backs to play with a wider base and cover the space in behind the Timbers’ full backs, and release Diego Chara into a more free role in the center of the pitch all the more vital for the side.
In particular, the ability of the Timbers to cover the wide areas deep on the Timbers flanks will be key against the Revolution. New England are a side that like to get the ball down and attack through the middle of the pitch and are known as such, but it is the side’s ability to get service from out wide to forwards Kei Kamara and Juan Agudelo that the Timbers will need to be wary of. Much of that service comes from the side’s tendency to push full backs Chris Tierney and Andrew Farrell up the pitch to support the attack. Tierney in particular has been a regular contributor of assists for the Revs and showed off his ability to provide dangerous chances from the left against Minnesota last weekend as he notched an assist and grabbed a goal as well off a second half penalty kick.
If the Revs can be frustraited going through the middle of the pitch — an approach that they have only had success with against Minnesota so far in 2017 and that the reunited duo of Guzman and Chara should deal with well — they will look to cross early and often, leaving it up to the duo of Lawrence Olum and Roy Miller to shut down Kamara and Agudelo in the air.
In the attack there has not been one consistent weakness that teams have exploited against New England so far this year, but one weak point does stand out from their week two loss to FC Dallas: the space in behind Tierney. Dallas was able to coem from behind for a 2-1 win against New England as former Timber Maximiliano Urruti exploited the space vacated by Tierney’s forays forward, scoring two goals by attacking from wide on the Revs’ left. For the Timbers, that space can be taken advantage of by the trio of Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and Fanendo Adi to good effect.
Watch it on: ESPN2
When: Sunday, April 2nd at 6:00 p.m. PT
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 3-1-0, 1st place in the Western Conference, Lost 3-2 away to Columbus Crew SC
New England Revolution: 1-2-0, 8th place in the Eastern Conference, Won 5-2 home against Minnesota United FC