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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs Houston Dynamo

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A hot time in Soccer City USA!

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Houston Dynamo at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

The Timbers are fresh off a come-from-behind draw with the Montreal Impact to extend their MLS unbeaten streak to 13 matches and are now working on the longest home stand in the MLS era era. With two dropped points at home last week, the Timbers need to put it to the Dynamo and secure all three points.

The Dynamo are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night, and tied with FC Dallas on the weekend in the Texas Derby. The Dynamo have a less-than-impressive 1-4-4 record when on the road. Will Houston picked up a much-needed win on the road? Or will the Timbers continue their eight-match unbeaten run at home?

Orange Slices

When the Dynamo roll into town they will be without two starters, Darwin Ceren and Alejandro Fuenmayor, both due to yellow card accumulations after cautions picked up in Wednesday’s match against the Union. Tomas Martinez was given a red in that match, but appealed the ruling and had it rescinded, so he will be available for selection.

While Wilmer Cabrera likes to rotate his side often, I’m not sure he expected to have three starters out, coming into Providence Park to take on a Western Conference opponent.

The Houston Dynamo are two spots outside the playoffs with 15 matches remaining. Currently they average 1.42 points per game, which lands them just one spot out of a playoff spot, in seventh. For contrast, the Timbers are at 1.72 ppg, which puts them in second place in the Western Conference. Currently the Timbers sit on 31 point in fifth place, and the fewest games played of any team in the west.

Chalkboard

Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo have played five matches in the last two weeks and are starting to run on fumes. The scoreline from Wednesday’s match against the Union is really misleading. Even when Houston went down to ten men with a half hour to go, they didn’t pack it in defensively, but pressed for an equalizer. A penalty late into stoppage time dashed their hopes of a draw.

The Dynamo run a 4-3-3 and run with the throttle wide open, but come this weekend Cabrera might have to play it a bit different. I’m sure it’ll be the same formation, but like I mentioned above, they’ll be without the services of their number 10, a defensive midfielder, and one of their young center-backs.

Houston’s defense is for the most part young, if you take DaMarcus Beasley out of the equation (I’m amazed he’s still around—I think they put him in a cryogenic sleep when he’s not playing!). He should be back this weekend with the captain’s armband patrolling from the left back spot. With a center back missing because of yellow card accumulation, they’ll have to reach into their limited depth. I say limited because they have some injuries in the center back department, so they’re a tad thin in that position.

Houston are definitely less organized than what the Timbers faced last week in the Montreal Impact. With the center backs being pretty young, you might be able to press them into mistakes, and they are known to give up the first goal of the match on a regular occasion. The Dynamo have, however, scored nine goals in the opening 15 minutes of games, which is something that should be looked out for.

Their front three are three of the most under-hyped players in the league, and maybe that’s because they’re in the West and the East is all the rage right now. The man that needs to be contained is Mauro Manotas. He’s scored seven goals in his last nine games, bumping up his total to 11 and breaking his season total from last year. After being in the shadow of Erick “Cubo” Torres (who is now playing for Tijuana in Liga MX) in past seasons, he’s been able to shine and is putting up some of the best numbers of his career.

While the Timbers need to contain Manotas, they still need to keep another eye on Alberth Elis, who has nine goals and six assists. On the other side is Romell Quioto, who has three goals but leads the team with eight assists. They’ve got plenty of firepower up front that will keep Portland’s defense busy.

For what would be the first time this season (I think) there is not a single player on the injury list for the Timbers, which is some sort of minor miracle. That gives coach Giovanni Savarese a lot of clubs in his bag. While Houston has a dismal road record, the Timbers can’t cruise through this match on autopilot—not that they have this season, but I’m always leery, especially with a fast squad like the Dynamo. This is no time for switching of,f that’s for sure.

This will be my second week abstaining from trying to guess exactly what formation Gio will roll out on Saturday. In his short time here, I’ve already learned to trust Gio and so far that’s lead to 13 straight MLS matches without a loss. All in all, trust the system. The one thing that the Timbers really need to work on is finishing off matches. For once I’d like not to be nervy in the last 15 minutes holding on to a slim lead.

Stayin’ Alive

The longest streak without a loss came back in 2013, when the Timbers rattled off 15 straight, and they’re making a strong case they could meet or even exceed that record. While I love this streak, the draws, especially at home, are unacceptable. Saturday’s match, to me, felt closer to a loss than a draw. The Timbers cannot drop any more points at home, seeing as this is the longest home stand in the MLS era for the Timbers.

Of course a lot of the talk this week has been about Fanendo Adi and his request to leave the club for another MLS side. The Timbers are currently shopping him around, though the fact he’s a DP could pose a problem. With his absence, it seems that everyone below Samuel Armenteros has moved up a peg in the order—though it seems like Dairon Asprilla has slipped into that secondary striker spot, which I’m not sure I’m totally down with.

Below Asprilla are Foster Langsdorf, who has been tearing it up for T2, and Jeremy Ebobisse—so we could see some changes, especially if the Timbers snag an attacker after the sale of Adi.