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Storylines: Minnesota United vs Portland Timbers

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On the road again ...

MLS: Portland Timbers at Minnesota United FC Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

For the first time this season, the Timbers are above the red line and in a playoff position. You can thank the LA Galaxy for that. The Timbers put in work against the Galaxy as Cristhian Paredes bagged a brace in the 4-0 win at Providence Park. Also providing goals that game were Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse. With the win, the Timbers unbeaten mark reaches six matches in MLS; seven across all competitions.

The Timbers aren’t the only team in the middle of the unbeaten run: The Loons of Minnesota United find themselves in the middle of a stretch of six matches unbeaten. Their last time out, the Loons battled to a scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Going into Sunday, both teams are looking to continue their unbeaten runs. Can the Timbers pull out the road win? Or will the Loons show that they’re a playoff contender and take care of business at home to secure another three points?

What to Watch for

Minnesota United (10-7-5, 35 pts)

Minnesota United vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Last season, Adrian Heath’s club were on the outside looking in when it came playoff time: They finished 10th in the Western Conference in 2018. This season is a different story, though. They find themselves in fifth place and are in the playoff mix. The Loons are currently firing on all cylinders and will be tough to beat in their own building.

Darwin Quintero leads the team in goals with seven, but will not be available for the match against the Timbers because of yellow-card accumulation. He usually plays in the number ten spot, pulling the strings and providing the Loons creativity. Although he’ll be missed for this match, he’ll most likely play in the U.S. Open Cup Match on Wednesday.

Speaking of the U.S. Open Cup, it’ll be interesting to see how Adrian Heath plays this: What competition do you put more effort into? Do you rotate a bit and have a mishmash of players in both matches? Prioritize the Cup? Most likely, I’d bet that Heath will put out the strongest 11 he has (minus Quintero) on Sunday.

Look for the Loons to do most of their attacking down the right side of the pitch. They’re known to put a lot of crosses into the mixer, so that’s something to keep an eye on. While this is a stronger team than past seasons, they still have issues: They’re not very good at defending set pieces and. unlike the last few teams the Timbers have faced, they’re not very good at holding on to the ball for any length of time.

Look for Ike Opara to lead a strong backline against the Timbers. He was a standout at Sporting Kansas City, earning defender of the year honors in 2017. He’s made 18-plus starts this year and is the leader of the defense on the field. He’s no pushover, so the Timbers will need to be weary of him all match.

With Quintero out, look for newcomer Robin Lod to possibly get the start, which will be his club debut. He came over from La Liga side Sporting Gijon. And, of course, everyone on the Timbers is very aware and knows what to expect from former Sounder Ozzie Alonso, who anchors that midfield in a double pivot of the 4-2-3-1. He’s made 20 appearances this season for the Loons and has a goal and assist. Like Chara, Alonso isn’t afraid to get stuck in and make those tricky tackles.

Portland Timbers (9-8-4, 31 pts)

Portland Timbers vs LA Galaxy

So what do you do if you’re Giovanni Savarese? You know that you’re going to have to face this team again, with short rest, on Wednesday for the USOC. This isn’t a Loons side that you can just punt on and be okay, especially now that the Timbers are in a playoff spot. So, do you go full first choice 11, or do you rotate part of the side like in the past? It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out on Sunday night.

Diego Valeri has quietly put in one hell of season; with that wonder goal last weekend, he now has six goals this season to add to his 12 assists in 19 starts. Early in the season there was some hand-wringing about how to approach Valeri as he gets older; he shows no signs of slowing down, however. He now has 150 goals and assists in his career, and he is the 13th player to do so in MLS. It goes without saying that Diego Valeri is the heart and soul of this club.

Against the Galaxy, Diego Chara sat out due to yellow-card accumulation, and the Timbers won. That’s something the Timbers hadn’t done before, but have no fear he’ll be in the lineup against the Loons. He’ll be operating on some short rest, as he started the All-Star game against Athletico Madrid on Wednesday. Two of the best defensive mids in MLS will take the field on Sunday night — though we know who is the better of the two.

One player that has been a revelation of late is Cristhian Paredes. He bagged a brace against a tough LA Galaxy team and looks to get the start alongside Chara on Sunday night. I really hope that Paredes keeps going on his run of form. I think he’s been one of the bright spots in the middle of the pitch.

Injuries are at a minimum, as only Andy Polo is listed as questionable. Both Marco Farfan and Jeff Attinella are both on the shelf of extended period; the latter out for the season. This is about as healthy as the Timbers have been all season. Not sure what the deal with Polo is, although he started for T2 against Los Dos. Dairon Asprilla will sit out due to the red he picked up against the Galaxy.

Log Slices

The Timbers have won eight of their last 12 road games across all competitions, including consecutive road wins in league play against Seattle Sounders FC (July 21) and New York City FC (July 7). Portland’s 2-1 win on the road against Seattle marked the team’s sixth road win in MLS play.

The team’s six road wins is tied for the most road wins in the league this season. Notably, since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Timbers have won 32 road matches in MLS competition (regular season and playoffs), which is tied for the most in MLS during that span.

Portland have scored at least two goals in their last four matches against Minnesota United in all competitions.

Sunday’s match marks the fifth meeting all-time between Portland and Minnesota in MLS play. The two teams have split the four previous matches, with each team winning their respective home matches in 2017 and 2018. The Timbers have scored 12 goals in the four previous matches against Minnesota. Entering Sunday’s match, Minnesota is unbeaten in its last six league games (4-0-2) and has a record of 6-1-4 at home in 2019.