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Storylines: Toronto FC vs. Portland Timbers

The Timbers look for their second road win

MLS: Toronto FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

Last week the Portland Timbers traveled to Columbus to take on the Crew and former coach Caleb Porter. The Timbers did something they haven’t all season: win. Goals from Larrys Mabiala, Jeremy Ebobisse, and new right back Jorge Moreira sealed the win for the Timbers. Hopefully the first win of the season represents the turn of the corner.

As for Toronto FC, they took on the Loons of Minnesota United. There were seven goals scored, three braces, and four lead changes, and in the end TFC came away with the 4-3 win. They currently sit third in the East, just four points off the lead and just one point behind the Impact.

No doubt about it, the Timbers are going to have their hands full when it comes to TFC. So, can the Timbers turn one win into two? Or will Toronto FC add to their 3-0-1 record at home?

What To Watch For

Toronto FC (4-1-1, 13 pts)

Toronto FC vs Minnesota FC

Right now Greg Vanney’s Toronto FC lead the league, scoring an average of 3.0 goals per game. While most of Toronto FC’s fan base and I’m sure the team itself were not happy with the way things went down in 2018, when they finished 9th and out of the playoffs, fans have to be optimistic with the team off to a 4-1-1 start (three of those wins at home).

The Reds will be without the services of star striker Jozy Altidore who tweaked his hamstring against the Loons and should be out about three weeks. Also out is defender Drew Moor. It’s possible that homegrown forward Jordan Hamilton could get the start in the absence of Jozy Altidore.

Just because you take Jozy out of the equation doesn’t mean this team is hamstrung offensively, they’ve scored 18 goals in just six matches. On the other side of the coin, their defense is nothing to write home about. They’ve allowed 11 in the same stretch of matches, but still have a plus goal differential.

Vanney for the most part uses a 3-5-2 formation, but against the Loons they came out with a 3-5-1-1, which gives them a numerical advantage in the midfield. It also allows the wingbacks/wingers to push up into the attack. Look for TFC to spread the pitch wide, while dinking around with short passes to keep possession. They’ll attack down the right often and are known to run the offside trap.

The offense of the Reds could give the Timbers defense fits all night long even without their goal scoring leader (Altidore). One of the players you need to keep an eye on is Spaniard Alejandro Pozuelo, who has four goals and leads the team with five assists. In 90 minutes against the Loons he netted a brace. If they keep with the 3-5-1-1, look for Pozuelo to play just underneath the striker.

Portland Timbers (1-5-1, 4 pts)

Last week’s win took the Timbers out of the absolute bottom of the Western Conference, that particular distinction now belongs to the hapless Colorado Rapids. Not only did the Timbers earn their first victory, it was the first match this season where they scored first.

Now it’s time to put that in the rearview mirror and focus on the Reds of Toronto.

The Timbers came out in a 4-4-2 instead of the 4-2-3-1 they normally use. This seemed to work well for the Timbers, especially against a team trying to overload the midfield. The Timbers handled it well and got the win.

Now they face the Reds who are very good on the offensive end, and a bit questionable when it comes to the defense. So this match could come down to which offense is better, and could end up with a decent goal tally. I still don’t think the Timbers defense is where it really needs to be, but seeing Bill Tuiloma getting the start next to Mabiala makes me happy. Cascante was not getting it done.

Hopefully the offense can get a bit more of a kick in the rear. Of the three goals scored last week, only one was by a forward or midfielder, and that was Ebobisse. The other two, defender goals: a sweet header and a well-placed goal off the foot of Moreira. But it worked, and I’d like it to keep working.

I wouldn’t be overly surprised if Giovanni Savarese sticks with the 4-4-2. It worked in Columbus, and against a team like Toronto I think it will be effective. TFC are very chill in possession and I can see the Timbers needing to play a bit more aggressively — if they don’t, it could be a slow-moving affair. One thing the Timbers defense won’t have to worry about is Altidore, but Greg Vanney has three other options: Hamilton (as I mentioned above), Ayo Akinola, or former US International Terrence Boyd.

Diego Valeri notched his fourth assist of the season and the 69th of his career last week in Cbus. I’m really looking for him to get even more involved with the attack. Maybe it’s just me (and I haven’t gone back to look at any other previous matches, though I might), but I still think the Timbers can get more from him. I’m hoping that it’s just a slow start to the season for the Maestro.

Sebastian Blanco looked great last week, picking up two assists and man of the match honors. On and off the boxscore, Blanco put in work last week. I wouldn’t expect anything less from him coming up against a tough Toronto club. With Valeri and Blanco flying at the same speed good things will come.

Log Slices

Toronto FC (4-1-1, 13pts) is unbeaten in four home games (3-0-1) this season. Toronto FC ranks second in MLS in goals scored (18), led by Alejandro Pozuelo, who has tallied four goals and five assists in his first four games.

Saturday’s match marks the 10th meeting all-time between Portland and Toronto FC. The Timbers have won two of the last three meetings, including a 2-0 win at Providence Park on August 29, 2018.

There have been over 2.5 goals scored in Toronto’s last 12 home games.

Toronto have conceded at least 2 goals in their last 3 matches.