In a week full of do or die games for the Portland Timbers, tonight’s match against CD Saprissa is the most clear cut: no matter the margin, the Timbers must win if they want to advance out of the CONCACAF Champions League group stage.
Of course, with injuries once again mounting, a key suspension to Fanendo Adi, and the final match of the season coming up on the weekend, how the Timbers will approach this match is very much up in the air. Balancing CCL advancement against the need to keep players fit for this weekend’s win-and-in road match against the Vancouver Whitecaps leaves Caleb Porter and company with some decisions to make, likely leaving players like Diego Valeri, Darren Mattocks, and Jack Jewsbury out of the XI as they recover from knocks that were picked up or aggravated during Sunday’s clutch 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids.
All of the Timbers’ possible absences could mean that we see call ups from T2 for a competitive match for the first time since the Timbers established their USL side. However, with so much riding on this game, it seems likely that the Timbers will instead lean on their regular first team bench to fill out the XI, giving Lucas Melano another chance one the wing, asking Ned Grabavoy to pull the strings alongside Darlington Nagbe in the midfield, and inserting Jack McInerney at striker.
Of course, x-factors like Jack Barmby or recent loanee from T2 Victor Arboleda could also feature if the Timbers are in the mood to take a risk.
How exactly the Timbers handle the center of the pitch will have a huge impact on this match, but it will all start with Diego Chara in a holding midfield role in front of the back line. With Jewsbury likely in need of time to recover before this weekend and Ben Zemanski out with a collapsed lung, the Timbers could turn to Amobi Okugo to protect the defense, but Chara, who will not be available on Sunday due to yellow card accumulation, seems like the simpler choice.
More importantly in a match that the Timbers will need to win against a likely bunkering Saprissa side, the need to create chances will be spread throughout the lineup in Valeri’s absence. Darlington Nagbe has been under the microscope since his call up to the USMNT -- doubly so since apparently declining his most recent opportunity with the US -- and much of the chance-creation burden will surely fall on him even as the debate over his role as a player continues.
Watch it on: Streaming on CONCACAF’s Facebook page
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 2W-1L-0T, 2nd place in Group B
CD Saprissa: 2W-0L-1T, 1st place in Group B