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Storylines: Philadelphia Union vs Portland Timbers

Timbers look to wrap up 12 match road stretch with three points in Philly.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

The Timbers were able to pull of a draw midweek in Houston, which marked their 11th match on the road. With the tie, the Portland Timbers find themselves still below the red-line in 10th place and five points outside of a playoff spot. This Timbers team is in desperate need of some home cooking, and that is right around the corner. But first, the Timbers must travel to the City of Brotherly Love, to take on the East-leading Philadelphia Union.

The Union are also coming off a hard fought draw against the Seattle Sounders, where they saw their road record go to 2-2-2. Now they return to take on a road weary Timbers club. Can the Timbers come into Philly and snag a win on their last road match, before returning to the friendly confines of Providence Park? Or will the Union continue their winning ways and send the Timbers packing back to the Pacific Northwest?

What To Watch For

Philadelphia Union (7-3-3, 24pts)

Jim Curtin has his team running on all cylinders right now, tied for the lead in the East on 24 points with D.C. United. They’re one of the surprise teams so far this season as I’m sure not a lot of people picked them to be top of the East table, though it’s still early. The Union are undefeated in their last six matches (four wins, two draws). And are looking to continue that run against the Portland Timbers.

The Union’s number one choice in goal returned to the pitch against Seattle, where Andre Blake recorded his second shutout of the season. Blake hasn’t conceded a goal in the last 198 minutes. With pretty much the entire roster healthy, save for a couple of players - they’re all but at full strength.

Against the Sounders, Jim Curtin deployed a 4-4-2 diamond (or 4-3-1-2 depending on how you look at it). They rotated some of the personnel against the Sounders and I would look for them to put out their best starting 11 against the Timbers. One of the things that the Union are good at is creating chances from distance. They’ll also look to stretch the field, trying to take the Timbers out of position. I’d also be on the lookout for through balls, as they will try and split the Timbers center-backs to get in on goal.

As a team, the Union are averaging 1.69 goals per 90 minutes. Striker Sergio Santos leads the team in Goals Per 90 with 1.26. Suffice it to say, this is a dangerous team and should not be taken lightly. They took 20 shots on goal against the Sounders, holding them to just 6 shots. So, look for the Union to pepper shots in on goal; whether it's Attinella or Clark, whoever is in goal for the Timbers is going to have to be on their toes against this squad.

Portland Timbers (3-6-2, 11pts)

One of the things I’m sure is on the mind of every fan, including this one, is - will Brian Fernandez be in the starting eleven when the starting lineup is announced. Now, I’m the impatient sort, so if I were Gio - I would start Fernandez without a second thought. All the guy did was sub in and then score a goal on his debut. Now for him to start, that means that Jeremy Ebobisse will most likely be sitting on the bench.

Some other good news is Diego Chara will return to the starting eleven after sitting out a yellow card accumulation suspension. With Christian Paredes injured I see Andres Flores starting alongside Chara. I’d have picked Zambrano to get another start, but he’s off in camp with Venezuela for the Copa America and Eryk Williamson is in camp with the USMNT as well. (ETA: Eryk actually doesn’t leave until after the match in Philly. Thanks for the heads up in the comments, I misread.)

Another question is who will start between the pipes. Steve Clark has been the goto lately, though Jeff Attinella got the nod against Houston. As to who will get the start in Philly, I’d go with Attinella again. Clark has been solid, and I really do think there’s some competition between the keepers to see who gets that number one spot. In Clark’s three starts his GAA is 1.00, Attinella’s is 2.38.

We should also expect Larrys Mabiala back into the starting lineup as he traveled with the team to Philadelphia. While Cascante had a good match in Houston, better than I have seen in a while, it’s still Mabiala’s job and I think Gio is set on the Tuiloma/Mabiala pairing in central defense.

I don’t see any reason why Gio would move away from the 4-4-2, though like I said - I’d be starting Brian Fernandez up top along with Diego Valeri. Other than that, I don’t see many changes. With Flores most likely playing in defensive midfield - I would think that Andy Polo would get the start back out on the wing.

Log Slices

Fernandez scored his goal 12 minutes after entering the match (against Houston). It is the quickest goal ever scored by a Timbers player in his MLS debut. The previous record was held by Diego Valeri, who scored 14 minutes into his Timbers debut on March 3, 2013.

Playing their 11th consecutive road match of the season on May 15 against the Houston Dynamo, Portland set a record for the longest road trip in MLS history, surpassing the previous high of 10 consecutive away matches played by Sporting Kansas City in 2011.

Saturday’s match marks the 10th meeting all-time between Portland and Philadelphia. The Timbers have posted a record of 5-1-3 all-time against the Union, including a mark of 1-1-2 in road matches. Portland has won each of its last three matches against Philadelphia, outscoring the Union 8-2 in those matches. The Timbers recorded a 3-1 win in their last road match against the Union on April 8, 2017. The Union rank second in MLS in goals scored (23) and are tied for the second-fewest goals conceded (12) in the league.