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Match Preview: Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City

And here... we... go!

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the time again folks. Time for us to dust off our chainsaws, grab our scarves and sled, er, walk to Providence Park to jump, and clap and sing.

MLS and the Portland Timbers are finally back.

Portland’s home opener, originally slated for last Saturday, has been rescheduled for Monday, but while we had to wait an extra 48 hours the fact remains that the Timbers will still kickoff their 2023 MLS campaign against Sporting Kansas City under the Providence Park lights.

A look at the opposition

Portland’s opener is a meeting between teams that both missed the playoffs, but ended the season on two different trajectories. The Timbers of course missed the postseason by a single point on the final day, dropping their final two games. Kansas City ended the season seven points back from a playoff spot, but they ended the season on a tear. They only lost two of their final ten games, and won six of their closing fixtures.

All of the coincides with the arrival of forward Willy Agada. In just that ten game run, Agada scored a whopping eight goals and recorded two assists. The man is a handful on the field, as Portland of course discovered when the Nigerian forward put two past them and assisted on another the last time these two teams met: a 4-1 drubbing the Timbers suffered on the road at KC.

Agada will be the focal point for Sporting’s offense, and they will surely lean on him in this one. They will also be leaning on new defensive midfield signing Nemanja Radoja to shore up a leaky defense. SKC shipped 54 goals and had a -12 goal differential in 2022, and the 30 year-old La Liga veteran Radoja has the pedigree to help them improve those numbers in 2023.

Sporting looks ready to continue their late season form from last year and appears set to be a much improved side in 2023. They might not be able to show it right out of the gates, but the fact is that Portland faces a team with talent and belief in the first round of the new season.

If the Timbers want to start the season off with a win (something they haven’t done since 2017, by the way), they can’t afford to start slow or ease themselves into this one.

Sporting, like the Timbers, will be shorthanded on Monday, as the always dangerous Johnny Russell is unavailable for the visitors.

Timbers team news and outlook

Coming off of their most disappointing offseason in some time, the pressure was on for the Timbers to jumpstart their squad after missing the postseason for the first time since 2016.

So what did they do? Go out and splash the most cash they ever have. For a reported club record $10 million transfer fee, the Timbers brought it who is sure to be their most consequential transfer in years: Evander.

The Brazilian attacking midfielder is expected to be the guy for the Timbers offense, sparking attacks and scoring goals. Monday will be the first time Timbers fans get to see him in action (unless you were one of those fortunate few in Coachella last week), and I think it’s a fair assumption to say that everyone is excited to see what he can do.

Fans are also excited to see the ascendency of young players on the roster, namely Zac McGraw and the Colombian duo of Santigao Moreno and Juan Mosquera. All of those players are in line for larger roles in 2023, and for Portland to be successful in their opener tonight they will need to step up and fulfill that ask.

Alex wrote a bunch of excellent words around those players, other reasons to be excited about this season and more in his season preview, so check that out if you want to go deep into what to expect this year.

For this game though, it appears that the Timbers will be dealing with a problem that rears it’s head seemingly every single time the season opens: injuries.

Several key starters and depth pieces are either questionable or out for the opener. That includes attacker Sebastian Blanco, forward Felipe Mora, forward Dairon Asprilla, and left back Claudio Bravo. None of those three are expected to appear tonight, leaving Portland with starting second-year left back Justin Rasmussen and maligned center forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda in their stead.

While listed as questionable, head coach Giovanni Savarese seemed more optimistic around the chances that Moreno, Mosquera, and goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic see the field.

On the field, the Timbers will have be ready for Sporting’s signature intensity. SKC has given the Timbers problems in the past with their rough, aggressive and direct style of play. The visitors will likely spend more of their game on the back foot and reacting, so the Timbers will have to be prepared to take space fast, utilize that space efficiently, and be lethal in their attacking opportunities. In short — they have to be locked in and focused from the opening whistle.

Projected starting XIs

Portland (4-2-3-1): Aljaz Ivacic; Juan Mosquera, Dario Zuparic, Zac McGraw, Justin Rasmussen; Diego Chara, Eryk Williamson; Santiago Moreno, Evander, Yimmi Chara; Jaroslaw Niezgoda

Kansas City (4-3-3): Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Robert Voloder, Andreu Fontas, Tim Leibold; Remi Walter, Nemanja Radoja, Erik Thommy; Marinos Tzionis, William Agada, Daniel Salloi

Score Prediction

Early season MLS is like the feeling of going to college for the first time: you have no idea of what exactly is going to happen, you don’t know who is good or not and you really don’t know what you’re doing.

In other words, predicting the game is a fool’s errand. Teams are likely still rusty, form hasn’t really been established yet and this year’s opening weekend has been as wild as they come. So there’s really no telling what will happen under the Providence Park lights.

Nevertheless, we’re gonna try to do it anyway. The last time these two teams met in Portland, nine goals were scored. While I don’t think that many will be scored this time, I do expect goals. I’m going for a little deja vu from last year’s opener and predicting a 2-2 draw. Santiago Moreno gets a goal, and Evander opens his Timbers account. William Agada gets another brace against the Timbers, as the spoils are shared on opening night.