Former English Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And that’s exactly what the Portland Timbers are going to have to do tonight as they travel down South to take on a red-hot Austin FC.
A Look at the Opposition
To put it mildly, Austin FC have been good this year. Like, really really good. Like Supporter’s Shield-challenging, top-scoring team in the league good. Their powers were fully on display in their last outing as they dismantled a star-studded, table-topping LAFC squad 4-1 at home. Former Timber Maxi Urruti got a brace in that game, sandwiched between a Diego Fagundez strike and Golden Boot leader and MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi’s 19th goal of the season.
Urruti (9g, 2a), Fagundez (6g, 12a) and Diussi (19g, 7a) are the players who pose the biggest threat to the Timbers, and if Portland are going to get anything from the game, they’ll need to hope that their inconsistent backline can minimize their effectiveness.
Austin have won eight of their last 13 games in MLS play, taking 27 points from a possible 39, and scoring 31 of their league-high 59 goals in that span. If there’s one criticism of Austin FC this season it’s that they’ve conceded 37 goals through 27 matches, and while that’s just around league-average, is just eight fewer than the Timbers have conceded this year.
Austin’s only notable injury as of August 30th is defender Hector Jimenez, so expect a full-strength opposition when they host the Timbers tonight.
Timbers Team News & Outlook
Portland’s confidence will no-doubt be buoyed by their Cascadia Cup-winning triumph over the Seattle Sounders last weekend, a 2-1 win in which the Timbers looked solid in all aspects barring two lapses in concentration from set-piece opportunities. Every player on the pitch that night put a mammoth shift in, but the two players who stood out to me were Dairon Asprilla and Zac McGraw, who were both handed surprising starts in what was the Timbers’ biggest match of the season.
Asprilla scored the penalty that equalized the match at 1-1 and worked his tail off all night, making lung-busting runs all across the forward line, and tracking back defensively. There was a moment deep into stoppage time that epitomized Asprilla’s work rate, where he ran all the way back into the right-back position after being beaten further up the pitch, and won the ball back off of Nouhou before clearing the it to safety.
McGraw was a rock at the back for the Timbers, making four interceptions, one tackle, and four clearances against the Sounders, winning seemingly every aerial duel that came his way. Many Timbers supporters have been vociferous in wanting McGraw to start this season, and his performance against Seattle (coupled with Larrys Mabiala’s poor form in 2022) made a strong case for him to start again in Austin. “[McGraw] played very, very well. He was important in important places. We saw in the beginning the cross to the back post that he just went and covered. He was so excited to start this game,” said Giovanni Savarese post-match.
In terms of team news, the Timbers will once again be a bit light at striker as Nathan Fogaça’s ankle injury continues to sideline him, adding to Felipe Mora’s season-ending knee surgery. Newcomer Juan David Mosquera, who arrived in Portland last week after a drawn-out VISA process, is the other first-teamer who will likely be available for the Timbers tonight:
A Timbers source tells me Juan David Mosquera will travel to Austin, as Gio Savarese just said in his MD-2 presser, but he likely won’t be on the bench as he continues to get integrated/train with the team.— Ryan Clarke (@RyanTClarke) August 29, 2022
The club hopes Mosquera will make the bench for 9/4 vs. Atlanta. #RCTID
Other than those three, Giovanni Savarese will have everyone involved in Friday’s win over the Sounders available for selection, and I’d expect tonight’s lineup to look very similar to the three-at-the-back system employed in that match.
Despite their 1-0 win at home against Austin FC earlier this season, I think the Timbers are going to struggle in the reverse fixture tonight. Austin just have too much firepower up front, and the Timbers’ Achilles heel is defending. Despite the back three looking good against the Sounders, there’s a big difference between a terrible 10th-placed side and one of the three best teams in MLS this season.
I’m predicting a 3-1 win for Austin FC.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. PST at Q2 Stadium in Austin, TX.