After a loony 4-4 draw against Minnesota United the Portland Timbers (7-10-6) are back at Providence Park to host Nashville SC (8-8-7) in yet another battle for playoff positioning. The meeting is the second of the season between the two sides after the Timbers rallied from 2-0 down in the final 33 minutes to draw in the reverse fixture exactly one month ago.
A Look at the Opposition
Nashville currently occupy the sixth spot (32 pts) in the Western Conference heading into the match, just one point ahead of the Timbers in seventh (31 pts). However, the team from the music city have gone through somewhat of a rough patch in recent weeks, taking just five points from their last possible 15 with their lone win in that period coming against the Sounders on July 13.
That’s not to say that the Timbers shouldn’t worry about their opponents— in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Nashville’s talisman Hany Mukhtar is tied for third-most goals in MLS this season with 12, to go along with an additional six assists. He also leads MLS in shots (87) and shots-on-target (47).
On the other end of the pitch Nashville’s ‘keeper Joe Willis is having a very impressive year, not too dissimilar to that of Timbers’ ‘keeper Aljaz Ivacic. In 21 starts, Willis has posted a 1.24 goals-against-average (Ivacic: 1.52), a save-percentage of 70.5 (Ivacic: 69.2), and has only allowed 26 goals past him this season (Ivacic: 32).
Nashville will be without the injured Anibal Godoy and Ake Loba for the match.
Timbers Team News & Outlook
Continuing the player availability news, the Timbers will be extremely short-handed for the match:
On if Eryk Williamson, Cristhian Paredes, and George Fochive will be ready to play tomorrow, Gio says it's "extremely questionable". #RCTID— Sam Svilar (@sammich923) August 2, 2022
The news comes after the Timbers announced on Monday that striker Felipe Mora will undergo season-ending knee surgery on the same knee that was operated on during the offseason, with an estimated recovery time of nine months. Along with Williamson, Paredes, Fochive, and Mora the Timbers will also be without midfielder Diego Chara and forward Dairon Asprilla against Nashville, who miss the match through yellow card accumulation suspensions.
All of a sudden the Timbers’ depth looks a lot less than ideal, which means head coach Giovanni Savarese will need to get creative with his starting XI. Expect David Ayala to start in midfield because, well, he’s literally the only recognized central midfielder the Timbers have available. In terms of his partner(s) in the middle of the park, I can think of a few viable options to replace the unavailable players:
1) Gio sticks with the 4-2-3-1. In this scenario, expect Yimmi Chara to play alongside Ayala in a deeper role, with Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Santiago Moreno, Sebastian Blanco, and Marvin Loria playing ahead of them.
2) Gio switches to a 4-3-3. If this is the formation, I could reasonably see center back Bill Tuiloma inserted into the defensive midfield spot at the expense of one of the attacking players, with Ayala and Yimmi Chara playing either side of him in midfield.
3) Gio opts for three at the back (5-3-2 or a 5-2-3). This would be the most drastic change to the formation of the three I’ve suggested, but one that could provide the best defense against Mukhtar. For a 5-3-2, I could see McGraw step into the backline with Mabiala and Zuparic with Tuiloma again moving into defensive midfield behind Ayala and Yimmi Chara. For a 5-2-3, I’d opt for Tuiloma to play next to Mabiala and Zuparic in the backline behind a double-pivot of Ayala and Yimmi Chara.
I think that the most likely scenario is that Savarese stays with his preferred 4-2-3-1 despite lacking the traditional #6 to partner Ayala, but I personally would like to see Tuiloma inserted into the base of midfield for that extra bit of defensive solidity against one of the premier attackers in MLS.
It goes without saying that the Timbers will have to play a near-perfect game to get a result without their top three starting midfielders. If you offered me a draw prior to the match I’d bite your hand off.
Having said that, I believe the combination of absences in Diego Chara and Eryk Williamson, the latter of whom has by-and-large been the catalyst for linking the midfield and attack and the driving force behind the Timbers’ best performances this season, will prove to be too big of a miss for the Timbers against Nashville.
And so, I’m unfortunately predicting a 3-1 Timbers loss to the visitors.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. PST.