The Portland Timbers welcome the New England Revolution to JELD-WEN Field Thursday evening (7:30 PM, ROOT Sports), the home side looking to extend a six match unbeaten run against a Revs squad revitalized after a much needed 2-nil win over the Philadelphia Union last weekend.
While manager Jay Heaps’ team impressed while downing the Union at home, Caleb Porter’s side are the talk of the league after storming out of Sporting Kansas City with a 3-2 win on the road in their last league contest.
Down twice in the first half, goals from Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe leveled the tie before the break, then put SKC to the sword via a second half Rodney Wallace winner.
Playing at one of the league’s more intimidating venues in terms of atmosphere and home team winning percentage, the Timbers tally of three goals to earn three points was a rare occurrence for the denizens of Sporting Park to suffer.
Now back in the comfortable confines of their home ground, a surging Portland are eager to show their run of form is the real deal in front of the Timbers Army.
If New England are hopeful of emulating Portland’s recent success, the similar attacking approach adopted in their latest victory may be the blueprint.
The offensive-minded trio of Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, and Diego Fagundez were at their level best in that triumph. Nguyen deftly set up Rowe to square to Fagundez for the opening goal, then Nguyen later capitalized on a rebounded save to double the Revolution’s advantage.
Perhaps more notable for New England is notching their fourth clean sheet in seven matches this season, understudy netminder Bobby Shuttleworth ably providing two shutouts while standing in for veteran Matt Reis. Heaps is like to stand pat with Shuttleworth after Reis’s last visit to Portland in 2011 ended in a 3-nil defeat.
The solid defending is a surprise given the threadbare makeup of the Revolution backline, one already decimated by injury further diminished by the suspension of Chris Tierney.
Darrius Barnes, Jose Goncalves, and Stephen McCarthy will see their stability tested by the Timbers, the midfield pairing of Diego Valeri and Diego Chara looming large behind three strikers that each scored last time out.
The forward movement of Rowe and Nguyen will be kept in check by Portland captain Will Johnson, who will alternate with Chara to clog the space in front of the Timbers back four.
The news that the injury that forced off Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso against Kansas City was not severe is surely pleasing in Portland, the Gambian poised for a fourth straight start alongside Mikael Silvestre.
Another factor for the Revs to consider is Michael Harrington, the outside back proving capable on either side of the pitch with Jack Jewsbury also displaying the versatility to man the left or right flank. The attacking nature of Portland’s fullbacks means more responsibility is required of Fagundez and Ryan Guy to help Kalifa Cisse close the gaps in the middle third of the field.
Up top for the Revolution finds Honduran Jerry Bengston penciled in as a solitary striker, while Portland native Chad Barrett is hopeful of full recovery from a hamstring strain to offer New England another option to lead the line.
Another threat for the visitors is Saer Sene, the French striker best known in Portland for scoring a mere 28 seconds into the Revs’ 1-nil win in the two teams sole encounter last season.
While that goal was even faster than the early concession from Portland against Sporting, the reactions were polar opposites, the inept finishing of 2012 now a thing of the past with this year’s Timbers a goal shy of leading the league in scoring.
Fresh off a midweek local friendly against a once little known club, the high scoring affair versus the Green Machine has the Portland faithful upbeat about the team’s chances against a Revolution side still trying to turn into a consistently winning side.
For Porter and the Timbers, the challenge is to not slip on the banana peel an opponent like New England represents, a young team with little to lose in a match the Timbers are expected to win, high praise for a team still evolving itself after a disastrous season past.
Although Portland’s style is receiving deserved plaudits, the vulnerability on set pieces is a concern not to be overlooked, nor is the reliance on resilience to collect points.
Sometimes it is as simple as outscoring the opposition, but the Timbers must resist the temptation to ride their luck, the late goal conceded to drop points at San Jose in the prior contest serving as a recent and raw reminder.