It’s been a long time since the Portland Timbers have traveled to the East Coast. When the pandemic was in full swing last year, MLS scheduled the season so that clubs would play mostly regional opponents. Before this season, most teams hadn’t played an opponent on the opposite coast since the MLS is Back tournament last summer.
Now the Timbers are set for their first match against an Eastern Conference opponent since that return tournament in 2020 — and it’s a tough one. The Philadelphia Union aren’t quite the same squad as last year: They’re 3-2-2 to start the year and lost several key players this offseason, but that doesn’t change the fact that this Jim Curtin-led squad can be dangerous.
“They’ve been very steady in the way that they play with their diamond,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “The ideas are very clear from Jim (Curtin) to the group. You can see that they understand exactly the movements that he’s looking for from his group, and that has allowed them to be successful.”
Even though Philadelphia might be without studs like Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, they’re still a tough team to beat. And there’s still the lingering injuries for Portland to worry about. Savarese said that everyone who has missed the past two matches will be out again on Sunday. The hope is that some of those players will be good to play after the June break.
“We believe that by the time that we come back and we play Kansas City, we’ll have some players back, and that’s our goal,” Savarese said. “But in this travel will be the same group that has been right now battling in the past three games.”
It’s the same group minus Andy Polo, that is. He’s out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair his left quad and meniscus. He sustained that injury after the brutal tackle committed by LA Galaxy defender Derrick Williams in last Saturday’s 3-0 Timbers win. His injury couldn’t come at a more difficult time.
The good news for Portland is that, despite this rash, of injuries, they’re not just surviving — they’re thriving. They’ve won their last two matches by multiple goals, beating the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 on the road and then the Galaxy 3-0. After all the injuries, the Timbers seemed destined to struggle through the last few games before the break. Instead, they have the chance to put together a three-match winning streak.
“I said it all along ... how proud I am of the group because the mentality has been strong through this difficult time in which we’ve had so many players out,” Savarese said. “The team able to still enter into the match, be very disciplined with the things that we asked them to do, and have a great mentality. Having accumulated these past six points in the last two games has been huge for us, very important for us.”
The truth is that regardless of what happens on Sunday, it’s impressive that the Timbers no matter what will have come out of these last three games with a winning record. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to come out of this match with a positive result. The process remains the same, regardless of who’s available. Savarese and company know it’s not going to be easy.
“We know exactly what to expect,” Savarese said. “We have prepared, but it’s going to be a very good game, as you know they’re going to be a very challenging team.”