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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs Columbus Crew

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Timbers look to turn things around against the Crew

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

I don’t know about you, but I’m really starting to heartily dislike Texas.

The Timbers return home after what we’ll call a setback in Houston. All in all it was a very poor showing by the boys in green and gold: a 4-1 loss, where the only Timbers goal happened to be a Houston own goal scored just nine minutes in. The Timbers looked to score a second goal only for it be called back thanks to VAR, after which the Dynamo took control of the match and put their foot on the gas.

The Crew is coming off a nil-nil draw against FC Dallas, in Dallas. It was a defensive battle all game as neither side could find the back of the net. The Crew are currently fourth in the East and are looking like a playoff-bound club. They’ll come into Providence Park looking for three points and try to march up the Eastern Conference ladder.

So can the Timbers get back in the win column and improve their home record, or will the crafty Columbus Crew ruin the Timbers’ evening?

The Arch City

Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and should have no problem reaching the postseason. Of course, we know of the off the field stuff that the Crew and their supporters are going through. It was pretty bold of PSV and the front office to begin selling 2019 season ticket packages without knowing whether or not the Crew will remain in Columbus next season.

While all that’s going on off the field, on the field Columbus has done pretty well for itself. It’s been speculated that Berhalter could be up for the vacant U.S. Men’s National team coaching spot. Whether there is any truth to those rumors, we’ll are going to wait till the end of the year to find out.

Chalkboard

Columbus Crew (12-8-8, 44 pts)

The Crew will come out in the 4-2-3-1 which is the only formation they’ve used all year. They’re a possession-based squad which exposes them to the counter-attack, which they’re not very good at defending. That’s partially because they rely on their fullbacks in their build-up play; they really get forward and provide crosses into the box for Gyasi Zardes.

After struggling with the LA Galaxy to the point that they moved him to right-back, Zardes is seeing a resurgence in Columbus. While his first touch still isn’t the thing of legends, he’s been putting the ball into the back of the net on a regular basis. In 28 appearances, he’s scored 15 goals, which is pretty much the extent of their offense; the closest player to him is Federico Higuaín who has a grand total of four goals.

The three in the 4-2-3-1 are Federico Higuaín, Justin Meram, and Pedro Santos who are all tough customers. Then there’s Artur and Will Trapp acting as the double pivot, but look for Trapp to play a bit deeper at times dropping in between the center backs.

Though with them also playing at the weekend, I’d suspect some rotation out of the Crew. In the FCD post-match, Berhalter kept his cards close to his vest on just how much he is going to rotate. They arrived in town on Monday to spend two and a half days in Portland getting ready for the Timbers.

Portland Timbers (12-8-8, 44 pts)

Including this match, the Timbers have just six more matches in the season and are currently in sixth place on goal differential. If the Timbers plan to compete and keep their playoff spot, they need to keep from dropping too many points this late in the season. Like most MLS clubs, (outside of ATLUD and RBNY) the Crew have a pretty crappy road record, which at least on paper looks like the Timbers can pick up three points.

With Gio’s baffling substitutions in Houston, I’m afraid to see what he’s going to come out with against the Crew. I would think he’d stay with the 4-3-2-1, it works better than the three-man back line that he’s rolled out in a few matches this season.

With Jeremy Ebobisse starting in Houston, I would be pretty sure that Armenteros will get the nod at striker. I wouldn’t mind Lucas Melano to get back out on the pitch whether he’s starting or getting a half hour run out. I’d suspect with Villafana playing just over a half hour in Houston, he may get the start over Valentin.

Whatever the case, the defense needs to man up and not put in a shoddy performance like they did Saturday. It goes without saying that Larrys Mabiala and Julio Cascante were just terrible in Houston and I would bet that Liam Ridgewell will get the start in place of Cascante. I think that Ridgewell is better at organizing the defense and brings a sense of calm. I’ve had my words about Ridgewell in the past, but I cannot deny the effect he has on the club when he’s on the pitch.

Alvas Powell and Jeff Attinella are listed as questionable for the match. I highly doubt we see Attinella suit up at all and Powell could make the 18, Valentin then gets the start at right-back while Villafana starts at left-back.

Log Slices

Checking in on our pals over at FiveThirtyEight, the Timbers sitting at 87% of making the playoffs, with only a 6% chance of getting that coveted first-round bye. They’re also listed at just a 3% chance of winning MLS Cup. Ain’t that peachy.

Keep in mind there are only six matches left in the season; that’s 18 possible points between now and then. The Timbers just need to keep pace and drop as few points as possible and hopefully climb the table a bit.

Besides Columbus, here’s how the final matches of the season pan out.

None of these matches are a gimme, though that Minnesota United fixture does look mighty tasty. The Timbers need to be on their toes and not slip on a banana peel in these last six fixtures. I would love to see the Timbers run the table on the rest of the season, but the odds on that are kinda slim.

From here on out, it’s about dropping as few points as possible. And looking at the schedule, the Timbers only have two remaining home matches, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, make a big push to the postseason.