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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs Sporting Kansas City

Timbers look to make it two in a row against SKC.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

Saturday’s win was U-G-L-Y, but a win is a win right?

The Portland Timbers managed to stumble into a win against Real Salt Lake. The game’s only goal was in the 16th minute, by Diego Valeri. Apparently that’s all the Timbers needed, even if they were making us sweat it out most of the second half. The problem is that the Timbers once again find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the Playoff race. There’s still a good possibility that this club makes the playoffs.

Sporting Kansas City is also on the outside looking in.

They’re currently just three points behind the Timbers in ninth place. They’re coming off their own 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo, who find themselves in 10th place and with an interim coach. The lone goal of the game would be scored by Johnny Russell in the 12th minute.

The last time these two teams met, it was for the Western Conference title, a match that the Timbers won en route to MLS Cup. Can the Timbers find the right combination to obtain all three points, or will SKC be exacting revenge for the Western Conference finals of last year?

What to Watch for

Sporting Kansas City (10-11-7, 37 pts)

Sporting Kansas City vs Houston

Against Houston, Peter Vermes ran out a 4-1-4-1, which he’s only done four times this season. So it begs the question: Will we see that Saturday? Or will he revert back to his most-used formation — a 4-3-3, which he’s used 24 times this season? I could see a case for the 4-1-4-1 on the road, as it’s a bit more defensive but still leaves a loaded midfield. What you see on the right, won’t be what you see on Saturday.

Sporting Kansas City will be missing seven players going into Saturday. This team has, at times, suited fewer than 18 players in matches. If so, they’ll have out two regular starters and four who make the 18 on a regular basis. This is what happens when you play through an international break, which I find totally screwy.

They’ll be missing the likes of Johnny Russell, who’s the second leading scorer on the team — and honestly one of the most dangerous. They will also be missing Krisztian Nemeth and Felipe Gutierrez, both major cogs in SKC’s offense. That’s a lot of goals and assists for SKC that won’t be at Providence Park.

It’ll be interesting to see exactly how Peter Vermes will approach this match. Whatever he does, Sporting KC needs the points badly if they want to make the playoffs. With a win at Providence Park, they could end up tied with Portland for the eighth spot in the table, just on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Because of games played, however, the Timbers would beat the tiebreaker in that case.

SKC’s road record (3-6-4) this season isn’t doing them any favors, and Providence Park is always a tough place to come and play. But with the way the Timbers have been playing, this could end up being a total crapshoot in the end. Sporting Kansas City is coming into the match with the knowledge that the Timbers just squeaked by Real Salt Lake and haven’t played as well as they should have at home.

Sporting KC loves to play possession-based football: They sit at more than 50 percent possession this season, and they’ll probably try to play keep away from the Timbers. They really like the one-touch passing in and around the box. They also like the through ball, and that’s something the Timbers are really going to have to be aware of. Look for them to take shots from distance.

Even though they’re missing seven players, that doesn’t mean the Timbers need to sleep on this match: Sporting KC plays the Timbers tough in the regular season. (Playoffs are a totally different story.)

Portland Timbers (12-11-4, 40 pts)

Timbers vs Real Salt Lake

I’m pretty much over thinking that every match from here on out is a must win or at the least a result needs to happen — but dropped points is still bad. I’d don’t think the Timbers will run the table, but at the same time they need as many wins as possible to ensure they make it into the playoffs. Right now, the Timbers are just two points out of a playoff spot that is currently held by the LA Galaxy.

The Timbers depth is going to be really challenged during the international break and beyond. Going into Saturday’s match, they’re going to be missing nine players. Yes, you read that right: Nine players are on the shelf right now for the Timbers. The players that are out for injury are: Larrys Mabiala, Julio Cascante, Modou Jadama, Marco Farfan, Zarek Valentin. and Jeff Attinella (gone for the season).

The Timbers will also be missing Renzo Zambrano, Andres Flores, and Cristian Paredes for international call-ups. (Technically, Zambrano would have missed Saturday anyway with the red card suspension he picked up against RSL.)

While picking a starting 11 shouldn’t be too bad, it’s all about who’s on the bench. I think the backline will remain the same from the RSL match, and Andy Polo will most likely start next Chara in the defensive midfield. And really, the Timbers have to hope and pray that a defender doesn’t go down, because right now there seems to no obvious replacement for a centerback or full back.

The Timbers depth is certainly being tested.

One thing I’d like to see out of the Timbers on Saturday night is more fight. They need to be fighting for that second goal if they go up by one. They need to go for the throat, not just set back and absorb pressure like they did against RSL; that second half was nervy from the get go.

Log Slices

SKC has held the Timbers scoreless in eight of 10 regular season games.

Kansas City have won with a one-goal margin in their last three matches (Major League Soccer). They’ve also won three in a row.

The teams met twice a season ago. Sporting won the last meeting: a 3-0 victory at home on Aug. 18. They reached a goalless draw on June 9 at Providence Park.

The road team has won five of the 14 meetings all-time in the series. Each team won on their home ground in 2016.

Sporting have come away with points on six of their eight visits to Providence Park, including four victories; the Timbers have gained points on three of their past five visits to KC (one win, two draws).

Steve Clark was credited with six saves in recording his fifth shutout of the season in 17 starts, his last coming July 27.