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Three keys to the Timbers advancing in the CCL

Take the initiative, stay sharp, and play smart: what Portland needs to do in the second leg to advance past CD Marathon.

Craig Mitchelldyer- Portland Timbers

On Tuesday night, the Portland Timbers will welcome CD Marathon to Providence Park for leg two of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 matchup. Fans will be there to watch it. The weather is supposed to be great. It’s gonna be a grand old time.

A way it could be even grander? If the Timbers take care of business and advance to the next round of the CCL. After a mildly disappointing but simultaneously pretty positive 2-2 draw in Honduras, the Timbers are in great position to do just that.

But it’s definitely not a given. Portland will need be on their game and focused if they want to advance. Here are three things the Timbers need to do to get past CD Marathon.

Finish the early chances

Just as it was last Friday night when the Thorns welcomed Rose City soccer fans back to Providence Park, Tuesday night is going to feel electric. Playing in a home field environment with fans for the first time in 401 days will no doubt have a big effect on the Timbers. So don’t be surprised if they come out flying.

Despite technically holding the advantage in the tie, Portland will likely want to play their brand of soccer and impose their will on the game, seeking to control the ball and put pressure on Marathon early. Doing so will likely create some good early scoring chances, and it would do a world of good for the Timbers to put one of them away.

The first leg could have played out a little differently if Portland converted one of the chances early chances they generated in the first half. They had a few of them, and they couldn’t put any of them away. An early goal would have gone a long way towards managing that first leg, and possibly pulling out a win.

Something similar Tuesday night would have a similar impact. An early goal would ensure that they can capitalize on early momentum, and do a ton of good for their confidence in seeing out the second leg. Additionally, it will force Marathon, who would need two goals at that point, to come out and try to use the ball more, which does not appear to be their forte or preferred tactic. Scoring early plays right into Portland’s hands for managing the second leg.

Plus, it would help keep the crowd in the game. Even with limited capacity, that stadium got loud on Friday night. More of that would do wonders for the boys in green.

Stay sharp on transition defense (especially after scoring)

This might be the most obvious one, but it’s arguably the most important one. Marathon showed how they like to attack and planned to break Portland’s lines on Tuesday night: through running up the gut and hitting on transition. It’s how Marathon got both of their goals, and it’s something they very likely will look to do on Tuesday.

And it’s something the Timbers have to be better at managing and preparing for.

Portland’s transition defense, especially right after they put the ball in the back of the net, was not especially impressive on Tuesday. The midfield left gaps to exploit, the center backs couldn’t always scramble back in time, and the room left by the advanced positioning of the fullbacks created too much vulnerable space.

Portland should expect to see a lot more attacks like that Tuesday night. Defending them more soundly than in the first leg means that Portland likely keeps Marathon off of the scoresheet, and put themselves in that much better position to keep dancing in the champions league past Tuesday night.

It would also do wonders for their confidence (and all of ours) in their ability to see out results, moving a step towards leaving that nasty habit in 2020 where it belongs.

Manage the moment

It needs to be said that Portland has to be considered the favorites to advance on Tuesday. They have two away goals, are playing in a familiar environment, and will have much more rest than Marathon (who played a league game on Saturday).

Therefore, they should hold themselves and play like the favorite. That means playing with the confidence and composure a favorite should have. It means the little things — like managing whatever “CONCACAF-y” shenanigans ensue, handling waves of pressure that will inevitably come from Marathon, and avoiding silly mistakes like taking unnecessary yellow cards.

If they don’t score early, if the result is still up in the air late, or if they go down early (reverse jinx?), the Timbers need to play with focus and maintain confidence that that they can get the job done. For Portland to advance, they need to demonstrate that they can manage an entire ninety minutes — something it could be argued they didn’t do last week.

In Honduras, the end of the first leg got a little anxious. Portland’s legs started going from lack of fitness, Marathon ratcheted up the pressure, and the Timbers had to rely on Steve Clark doing Steve Clark things to preserve their draw.

Letting things get to the knife’s edge late like that isn’t the worst in the first leg — if disaster strikes there are another ninety minutes to correct it. But that kind of room for error doesn’t exist in the return leg. If Portland wants to have any hope in surviving the second leg and keep their CCL run alive, they need to stay sharp and play composed soccer from whistle to whistle, and keep the moment in control.

What do you think? What else do the Timbers have to focus on to ensure they get past Marathon on Tuesday? Let me hear it below.