A wild afternoon in St. Paul, two home draws, and then getting blue-shelled by a couple of Italians in Canada.
It’s been a bit of a rough past couple of weeks for the Portland Timbers, who now stand winless in their past four games. They just saw their summer unbeaten streak come to an end, and are still treading water below the playoff line.
The amount of time Portland has to rise above the line is rapidly ticking down. The pressure is on as they face their second away fixture in a row, when they head to Children’s Mercy Park to face Sporting Kansas City.
A look at the opposition
The last time the Timbers played Sporting a few months ago, they ethered ‘em at home and produced this amazing bit of content in the process:
Unfortunately for this brave but poor fan, things haven’t been much better for Sporting since. The once perennial trophy contenders stand at the bottom of the Western Conference, and are on track for finishing near or at the bottom of the table for the second time in four years.
The reason for their woes has been pretty straightforward: SKC hasn’t been scoring enough and they aren’t able to keep their opponents off the scoreboard. Sporting have the worst goal differential in the entire league (-22), and also scored have scored the fewest number of goals in the league (26). The underlying numbers don’t hate them quite as much as their record suggests (San Jose & the a few teams in the Eastern Conference have worse expected goal differentials per 90 minutes), but the conclusion the statistics suggest is hard to be refuted. Sporting Kansas City is one of the worst teams in MLS this season.
Now all of that being said, we have to remember that this is still Sporting Kansas City. They have a championship pedigree, a championship caliber coach, and rostered players that still have quality. Attackers Johnny Russel and Daniel Salloi have been trying to do their part, scoring respectively seven and five goals on the season. Recently acquired forward William Agada has tallied three goals in his past two games as well.
Indeed, Sporting appears to have found their scoring boots as of late. After being held scoreless for three straight games, their two most recent fixtures were a barnstorming 4-2 win over the LA Galaxy and a narrow 4-3 loss to Austin FC, where Austin had to come from behind and score two goals in the final five minutes plus stoppage time to steal the victory.
All in all, Sporting Kansas City is a bad team that might be capable of an offensive explosion if the stars align. And because this is MLS, you never know when those stars will align, and when some chaos will be released.
Timbers team news & outlook
*Takes a deep breath, knocks on wood, crosses fingers.* The Timbers are finally healthy again (again). The injury report lists just Felipe Mora and Nathan Fogaca as out for the game, and rookie Diego Gutierrez— who had been recovering from foot surgery— as questionable.
That of course leaves Portland thin at forward— but that’s basically been the story all year. At this point the Timbers’ only real striker of note for the rest of the year is going to be Jaroslaw Niezgoda, so as long as he is healthy it’s likely as good as it’s going to get up top.
More importantly, Portland’s midfield looks to be back at 100%. Cristhian Paredes is set to be available on Sunday, and Eryk Williamson will be keen to make his return to the starting eleven. Both players raise the ceiling of Portland’s midfield, and with more dynamism out of that area more space is likely to be created for the likes of Sebastian Blanco, Yimmi Chara, and Santiago Moreno against SKC.
After a game last week where the Timbers struggled mightily to create clear-cut chances, getting the offense moving again is likely priority number one for Giovanni Savarese and company. And if Portland are able to get it firing against an opponent that has been unable to keep the ball out of the net, then a win in a venue where Portland hasn’t won in the regular season since 2013(!) might just be in the cards.
Dear reader, I am presented here with a dilemma.
On one hand, this is a game that by all accounts on paper Portland should win. The Timbers, now healthy, have too many quality players, and Sporting has been just plain bad this year.
But on the other hand... how much confidence do I have that Portland can pull it all together (again)? Times have been rough recently, and Portland’s hot start to the summer has decidedly cooled. I could just as easily see them lose a winnable game as emerge victorious.
Ultimately though, I’m going to ride with the boys— but it ain’t gonna be pretty. I’m predicting a 3-2 decision in favor of the Timbers, with Sebastian Blanco scoring a brace and Eryk Williamson adding one more. Sporting will score in the final ten minutes, making the Timbers defend for their lives at the end of the game, but then we’ll all be able exhale in relief (and exhaustion) at full time.