After their second straight high-wire act to come back from a goal down, the Portland Timbers now try to secure their first road win of the season Saturday at the New England Revolution (Mar. 24, 1:00 p.m. PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM). Taking on a team from whom they grabbed four points last year, and that’s started the season with two tough losses, Portland hopes are high this can be the type of game that lifts Portland up into the playoff places come the fall.
First, though, they’ve got to deal with a team whose pride is hurt, and will be motivated for their home opener.
WATCH: Team prepares for NE
Rebuilding Process in Progress
Long one of the proudest clubs in MLS, with a history that dates back to the league’s founding in 1996 and includes four MLS Cup Final appearances, the Revolution have fallen on hard times. After missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2010, the wheels came off in 2011: the worst record in team history—tying with Vancouver for last place in MLS—and a parting of ways with Steve Nicol, the longest-tenured coach in the league.
In came the team’s all-time leader in games played and minutes, Jay Heaps. The second-youngest coach in MLS, he’d spent the last two years in the broadcast booth. In came a glut of new players, both young and experienced, to overhaul the roster. And in came a new, designated player contract for captain Shalrie Joseph, arguably the team’s most important player since the retirement of Taylor Twellman.
However, it’s not quite yet gone to plan: after a tight 1-0 loss in San Jose to open the season, a 14th minute red card opened the floodgates in a 3-0 loss to Kansas City last weekend. Playing their home opener against the Timbers, the only home game they have in the first five weeks of the schedule, provides a crucial chance to get things back on track.
Injuries Already Taking Their Toll
It’s been a trial by fire for Heaps, who’s had to juggle the injury-ravaged defensive line in just the first two games. In game one, with left back Chris Tierney suspended from last year’s finale, center back A.J. Soares had to slide over, and converted midfielder Stephen McCarthy took his spot in the middle alongside John Lozano. In game two, with Lozano hurt, Soares slid back over, but then McCarthy was shown the red card early on. Now, Lozano and Darius Barnes—another option who’s been hurt both games—are both carrying injuries, McCarthy is suspended, and no one’s quite sure what the plan is at the back.
That doesn’t include a bit of lineup shuffle further up the field. Heaps changed three players—and the formation—from San Jose to Kansas City, trying two totally different approaches at forward. Then, the dynamic talent of Benny Feilhaber limped off last week, and is doubtful with a lower leg injury. To make matters worse, highly touted new forward Jose Moreno has yet to arrive in Foxboro after a long list of bizarre circumstances.
So what is left over? Joseph is one of the most influential midfielders in MLS; rookie Kelyn Rowe has been a spark and led the team in scoring in preseason; and backing it all up is Matt Reis, one of the most dependable goalkeepers in the last decade in this league.
In the corresponding fixture last year, the Timbers shrugged off losses in their first two MLS games to come back for a 1-1 draw, a watershed moment in this team’s early history. Now potentially another: the Timbers are facing a team that’s lost their next two games, is shorthanded, and while certainly full of frustration and motivation, is perhaps short of positive momentum. This is the kind of game that playoff teams win; if the Timbers want to be among their number come October, Saturday represents three points they’ll need to have in their bag.