Here we go folks. After four months that felt like many more, the Portland Timbers are playing meaningful soccer again.
Their return to the field will be in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16, where they will face Honduran club CD Marathon. The first leg of the two-legged series will kick off this Tuesday (3:00 p.m., broadcast on FS1) at Estadio Yankel Rosenthal in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The Timbers want to make a run in the CCL. Will they be able to get off to a strong start in Honduras? Or will they become just the latest in the line of MLS teams that couldn’t cut it in Central America?
What to watch for:
CD Marathon (5th in Group A of Honduras’ Liga Nacional, 9 pts)
Marathon are in the CCL by virtue of their performance in the Concacaf League, a play-in tournament held for Central American teams last fall. Since their qualifying, however, they have been doing considerably not that great.
They currently sit last in their group in league play, with nine points from 10 games played. They’ve only won twice since Honduran league play resumed in February, and they just earned their second of those two wins last weekend. They have a -5 goal differential, the worst in their group. Out of the 10 teams in the Honduran first division, they sit second to bottom.
As far as the formation and tactics they utilize, information on the internet about the Honduran league is … sparse. The league site includes basic information on team statistics and standings, but not much by way of match reports or team formations.
Through cobbling together rosters, probable player positions based on history, and social media, the best I could come up with is that CD Marathon plays a standard 4-4-2 formation. And based on their goal scoring record, it appears to be a standard mid-block style 4-4-2, with the emphasis on banks of four and the interplay between the two forwards, with wingers providing width.
Their current top scorer is 38-year-old Carlo Costly, a Honduran international forward who you may remember from a stint with the Houston Dynamo back in 2011. Primarily a sub, he leads the team with four goals. They have two players tied for second top scorer with two goals: Aregentinian forward Ryduan Palermo and Kevin Hoyos, a forward with dual American-Argentinian citizenship born in Fountain Hills, California.
Those three players make up most of Marathon’s offense, as no other player on the roster has multiple goals this season.
You could be forgiven for overlooking or writing off CD Marathon based on their form and record. But this is the Concacaf Champions League, and anything can happen, so you’re probably better off throwing the form guides out the window. CCL’s past are littered with MLS sides “getting CONCACAF’d” and getting caught off-guard by teams that on paper they should steamroll, and Portland will have to be on alert that the same doesn’t happen to them.
Portland Timbers (0-0-0, 0pts in MLS league play)
When we last left the Timbers, they were trudging off of the field at Providence Park in heartbreak after being bounced from the playoffs by FC Dallas after a wild penalty kick shootout. Since then, they’ve made a few moves, but don’t look a whole lot different.
Key departures for the Timbers were left backs Jorge Villafana and Marco Farfan. To take their place, the two biggest additions for the Timbers have been Argentinian left back Claudio Bravo and Liga MX veteran right back Josecarlos Van Rankin.
Outside of that … pretty much everyone you remember is still here. Portland is running it back from 2020 with some upgrades in a couple positions, and the CCL represents their first opportunity at gunning for hardware in 2021.
It’s been hard to determine how different Portland has been playing in 2021 than in 2020, if any different at all. None of the preseason matches this season have been livestreamed, so there has been no way for anyone to see how the team is playing or how plays are progressing, save from a few scant goal highlights on social media. So how Portland actually lines up will be a mystery until the lineups are released
We do know that head coach Giovanni Savarese will probably roll with his standard 4-2-3-1, and we can make a pretty educated guess at who will line up wear, based off how the Timbers lined up in their final preseason tune-up against the Seattle Sounders last week.
Portland’s injury and availability report has been *shrug emoji* all preseason, but it sounds like Jeremy Ebobisse may be carrying some kind of injury, hence why he didn’t appear in Portland’s final preseason game, and hence why I project Asprilla starting. And for some reason, Eryk Williamson has also not been starting with the first team during preseason. Cristhian Paredes got the start in the final two preaseaon matches, so while I may disagree with it, my hunch is that he starts next to Diego Chara in Honduras.
The Sebastian Blanco-sized question with the lineup is, well, Sebastian Blanco. The dynamic attacker has been working his way back to full fitness while he recovers from an ACL tear he suffered last season. We know that he is with the group in Honduras, which is a positive sign. I don’t if we he see him make a cameo appearance on Tuesday, and I also don’t know if we should, but there is a chance.
Portland will likely sit back and look to counter-attack Marathon in the pressure-filled environment of an away match in Honduras. Despite their form, Marathon is technically the team in form, while Portland is playing their first competitive game in 2021. Eyes will be on Portland’s sharpness on the field, and their fitness and legs, especially towards the tail end of the match.
Portland’s main goal will most likely be to make the second leg in Portland manageable. A result, and even just a goal, would be nice to have. But first and foremost they should focus on managing the tie. They can’t win the series down in Honduras, but sure as heck can come close to losing it.
- This is Portland’s third appearance in the CCL, and their first in the knockout rounds. Their all-time record in the competition is 5-1-2.
- CD Marathon gets shown a lot of red cards. Through their ten games played, they’ve had five players sent off via red card. Since this is Concacaf, one can expect something similar to happen on Tuesday. Brace yourself
- This is Portland’s second visit to Honduras for the CCL. Their first time here in 2014 … didn’t go so great.
- Dairon Asprilla scored two goals in the preseason, and he has made a name for himself scoring goals in two-legged series. Just sayin’.