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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs D.C. United

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Wayne Rooney comes to town as Timbers look to make it three in a row

MLS: Portland Timbers at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

The Portland Timbers have now won two in a row and pushed themselves into a playoff spot, occupying sixth place, thanks to a tiebreaker against FC Dallas. Jeremy Ebobisse and Brian Fernandez would provide the sparks late in the match to push the Timbers past a tough Sporting Kansas City squad. The winning goal was a header from Fernandez in stoppage time to seal the victory.

D.C. United are coming off a August 31st win against the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo. Ola Kamara and Paul Arriola provided all the offense in the 3-1 victory, with Kamara walking away with a brace. United currently sit in fifth place in the East. While they just played an international friendly, they’ll be ready for the Timbers.

Can the Timbers make it three in a row? All the parts and pieces are certainly there to do so. Or will Wayne Rooney and D.C. United play spoiler and stop the Timbers’ modest winning streak?

What to Watch for

D.C. United (11-10-9, 42 pts)

D.C. United vs Montreal Impact

Well, one thing to note is that Wayne Rooney will more than likely get the start against the Timbers. He sat out a two-match suspension for a red card, while singing Folsom Prison Blues at a local D.C. Bar (not kidding). But that’s over, so I’d expect him in the lineup on Sunday afternoon.

Ben Olson likes to run a 4-2-3-1, much like the Timbers. One thing I’d for sure look out for is their set pieces: They’re known for scoring on direct free kicks around the box, so the Timbers will definitely have to be on their toes. DCU averages 12 shots per game, along with a 48.4 percent possession. They seem to be happy playing it out of their end of the pitch and have no problems having the ball in their end. While they may be good at direct free kicks, they’re not good a defending set pieces — and that’s a place the Timbers could exploit.

Wayne Rooney will be definitely a player to look out for. He’s the main man in the attack, as he has been for the last two seasons. He leads the team in goals and assists, with 11 and seven respectively. Last year, in his first season, he netted 12 goals and seven assists. Although he’s matching his pace from last season, he’ll not be a D.C. United player once the winter transfer window opens: He’s headed back to England to play and coach for EFL Championship side Derby County.

U.S. International Paul Arriola helped the United in their victory against the Impact. Look for him to be at the number ten slot on the pitch. He’ll help facilitate the attack and be the shuttle between the midfield and Wayne Rooney. Arriola came to D.C. United in 2017 as a young designated player. This season, he has six goals and two assists.

This could come down as a battle of the goalkeepers.

Bill Hamid is a former Goalkeeper of the Year and has been a stalwart in net for D.C. United the past eight years. He’s registered 10 clean sheets so far this season, and he has a goals-against average of 1.28 and has made 114 saves this season. He’s a tough nut to crack, so the Timbers will have their work cut out for them with Hamid in the net.

Portland Timbers (13-11-4, 43 pts)

Timbers vs SKC (Lineup from MLS.com)

The Timbers are coming off a great come-from-behind victory against SKC. As I said, Brian Fernandez and Jeremy Ebobisse provided the spark the Timbers need to squeak past Sporting Kansas City. Now, the Timbers need to build on that and look for their third in a row and to keep climbing the table. They currently occupy fifth place in the Western Conference, and only three points separate them from second place, where Real Salt Lake currently sits. No one is going to catch LAFC, who have already clinched their spot in the playoffs.

The Timbers will be once again without a plethora of players: Listed as out are Larrys Mabiala, Julio Cascante, Kendall McIntosh, and Modou Jadama. On the bright side, Zarek Valentin and Marco Farfan are now listed as “questionable.” With a midweek match following this one, it will be interesting to see just how Giovanni Savarese rotates the squad either Sunday afternoon or on Wednesday night, when the New York Red Bulls come come to town.

I suspect that we’ll see the same back line as we did the last couple of matches: Jorge Moreira, Jorge Villafana, Claude Dielna, and Bill Tuiloma — because honestly they’re the only ones healthy at this point. I’d also guess the attack will remain the same. Why mess with what’s working? I also think Sebastian Blanco will be returning to the starting 11 on Sunday afternoon.

It goes without saying that one player to keep an eye on is Diego Valeri. He’s in great form right now and is playing his heart out, and he is a main reason why the Timbers are in the position they’re in. I foolishly thought at the beginning of the season that Gio should manage Valeri’s minutes, with his age and all. I’m willing to admit — boy, was I wrong.

I look at each match from here on out a must win. I’m sure there will be some dropped points; as nice as it would be for the Timbers to run the table, I just don’t see it happening. Right now, the Timbers need to weather the storm of injuries and hold things together until the core of our defense returns to the pitch. I’ll be much happier having Julio Cascante and Larrys Mabiala back on the pitch.

Log Slices

Fernandez (11 goals) and Ebobisse (9 goals) rank first and second on the team in goals this season. Fernandez’s goal in the win over Sporting KC was his 15th in all competitions in 2019. For Fernandez, the goal was his fifth game-winning goal of the campaign, which ranks as the second-most game-winning goals in MLS. Valeri recorded his 16th assist in the match against Sporting KC, which ranks as the second-most in MLS, while Tomás Conechny tallied his third assist of the season.

The Timbers square off against D.C. United for the 10th time in the all-time series on Sunday. Portland leads the series with a record of 4-3-2, including a mark of 3-1-1 at Providence Park. The Timbers have won three straight matches against D.C. United at home, most recently recording a 4-0 win on Oct. 15, 2017. Over the last two seasons, Portland is 5-1-3 at home against Eastern Conference opponents.

Portland have been winning at both half time and full time in their last three home matches against D.C. United in all competitions.

There have been more than 2.5 goals scored in five of DC United’s last six games (Major League Soccer).