It’s been over a month since the Portland Timbers lost a game, and they’ve ridden that wave of great Summer form right back into the thick of the playoff hunt. However, they face the greatest test to their unbeaten run yet as they travel to Minnesota to square off against a red hot Minnesota United.
A Look at the Opposition
Perhaps the only team that has had a better start to their summer than the Timbers has been the Loons. Minnesota is unbeaten in their past six games, and have dropped points just once during that stretch (a 1-1 home draw to Sporting Kansas City).
Minnesota currently sit in third place in the Western Conference, four points ahead of Portland, and have risen to that perch on the back of a recent offensive explosion. The Loons have scored 14 goals during their unbeaten run. And the one leading that charge has been their playmaking talisman, Emanuel Reynoso.
Reynoso has scored six goals over Minnesota’s unbeaten run. The midfielder has also chipped in 35 shot creating actions over that period. He has been the engine that has powered Minnesota’s offense, and any conversation of how to stop Minnesota’s potent attack starts with limiting his influence.
He is however listed as questionable for tomorrow’s bout, and he missed Minnesota’s game last weekend after picking up a knock in their friendly two weeks ago against premier league team Everton. Still, he is a player that has the capacity to change a game on his own, even if he’s limited.
this whole play is just *chefs kiss* pic.twitter.com/rNoHYNuTul— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 17, 2022
News: #MNUFC midfielders Emanuel Reynoso and Kervin Arriaga are both available to play vs. Portland Timbers on Saturday, manager Adrian Heath said Friday. They’ve been dealing with ankle injuries. In training this week, Rey seemed ahead of Kerv, who has done more rehab on side.— Andy Greder (@andygreder) July 29, 2022
Timbers Team News & Outlook
Let’s get the big & bad news out of the way first: Eryk Williamson didn’t make the trip to Minnesota and will not be available for the Timbers. He came off midway through Portland’s win over San Jose last weekend with some hamstring soreness, and that injury will keep him out of affairs this weekend.
Gio Savarese shares during his pregame media availability that Eryk Williamson will be unavailable this weekend, and won't travel with the team to Minnesota. #RCTID— Sam Svilar (@sammich923) July 28, 2022
Much ink has been spilled about Williamson’s influence on this recent unbeaten run for the Timbers and the impact he has on Portland’s overall play, so I won’t belabor the point too much here. Portland averages 1.75 points per game when Williamson starts, and 1.14 points per game when he doesn’t. We’ve seen that play out in the last month for the Timbers, when Portland’s two draws came in games where Williamson didn’t feature. Plain and simple— the Timbers will badly miss Williamson tomorrow.
In case Williamson’s exclusion wasn’t enough, Giovanni Savarese also shared the news that Cristhian Paredes is also questionable for Saturday, casting doubt over who will step into the midfield next to Diego Chara.
Last bit of bad news to share is that while the Timbers enjoyed a barnstorming win over the Loons in the playoffs last year, Portland hasn’t beaten Minnesota in the regular since 2018. In fact, Portland hasn’t even gotten a single point in the state of Minnesota since the Loons entered the league in 2017. With personnel news and history stacked against them, Portland will be well and truly up against it on Saturday.
That is not to say the Timbers don’t have the quality to pull off a result, however. They have the players that can provide the moments of quality they need to get something out of tomorrow. Sebastian Blanco will return to the side after serving a suspension last game, Santiago Moreno is coming off of an electrifying second half performance last weekend, and Aljaz Ivacic is putting up league-leading ‘keeper numbers (and highlight reel saves).
Key for the Timbers will be how they balance the midfield. If Christian Paredes can’t go, Savarese will have to get the personnel right in order to limit Minnesota’s ability to penetrate up the middle. Among Savarese’s options, David Ayala could be in line for a big start on Saturday in a tough environment.
Whether it’s Ayala or another combination of personnel, Portland’s chief responsibility will be keeping pace in the game. Minnesota’s offense is rampant, but their defense looks fallible. They’ve conceded at least one goal in five of their last six games, and have a goal differential of only +6 over that stretch. If Portland can carve out opportunities to score (almost assuredly to be on the counterattack) and capitalize on them, then they have a shot at escaping Allianz Field with their first point(s) in Minnesota.
If they can’t though, and Minnesota pounces on Portland early, the Timbers might be in for yet another bad time in the Land of 10,000 lakes.
Sorry folks, I think this is where the unbeaten run ends. Without Williamson, without a strong track record against the Loons, and with more midfield doubts I just have this gut feeling that Portland is destined for a loss tomorrow.
That’s not to say it won’t be entertaining. I think the match ends 3-2 in favor of the hosts, with Reynoso, Michael Boxall, and Robn Lod all scoring for Minnesota. Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda score for Portland, but ultimately it won’t be enough.
And so, now you all have permission to revisit this preview to praise my reverse-jinx or bemoan my just, uh, regular jinx depending on Saturday goes down. I’m sorry/you’re welcome.