Last Match Recap:
The Timbers succumbed to two quick Red Bull strikes before halftime, dropping the Sunday matinée encounter in disappointing fashion. The two goals were abnormal, the possession stats were abnormal, and the Timbers were held scoreless, which is—unfortunately—not abnormal. On an occasion where over 30 Timbers alumni congregated on the Providence Park Pitch in an unprecedented display of Soccer legacy in the Rose City, happy memories were the only thing keeping smiles on faces.
Sometimes, it’s better to forget.
What does it mean?
Things are a lot tighter in the West; and a lot more nervy. With just two points gained over their last four games (out of 12 possible points), Portland finds itself merely one point ahead of 7th place San Jose and only three ahead of 8th place Real Salt Lake. A few weeks ago, the Timbers were within striking distance of 1st; now they’re closer to dropping out of the playoffs than to 5th place Sporting KC.
If you thought hosting East-leading Red Bull was tough, Portland now faces a trip across the country to second-place Columbus. The Crew are equally as high-scoring as the Red Bulls, in fact, they’re in a 3-way tie for most goals scored with NYRB and Toronto. With Golden Boot frontrunner Kei Kamara leading the line just ahead of the league’s second-leading assist producer, Ethan Finlay, Portland’s back line will have their hands full.
Water Cooler Number: 8
The narrow margin by which Kei Kamara’s 21 goals trail the Timbers team total of 29.
Opposing player to watch: Federico Higuain
For the first time in his Crew career, the Argentine isn’t the guy. Kamara and Finlay’s emergence have grabbed the headlines, but Higuain has become almost more dangerous in a supporting role. His 7 goals and 7 assists so far are solid, but his 47 completed crosses are top-5 in the league. As the Timbers learned (the hard way) last year, he also can score from anywhere. Portland struggles against MLS’s top crossers (Brad Davis is a regular example in this space), so keeping Higuain in check is a top priority.
Timber to watch: Will Johnson
The Captain has endured a lot on his road to recovery from that horrific leg break a year ago, limiting his 2015 season to a meager 12 games, without a goal or assist. His struggles reflect the greater team concerns, especially when it comes to scoring. With Portland winless in their last 4 and scoreless in their last 2, a long trip to face a talented team is quite a daunting task. Victory under duress requires leadership, and this weekend presents a huge opportunity for the Captain to step up.