Looking for a win in the Heartland, the Timbers will face a battle out on the wings.
The Portland Timbers are looking to return to their winning ways for a nationally televised match against Sporting Kansas City in Kansas City, Kansas, this Sunday (4:30 p.m. PT, FS1).
Portland put the league on notice with a 7-2 victory over SKC at Providence Park on May 15, but those kinds of results aren’t common in MLS and the hosts will be hungry for revenge in what promises to be a raucous atmosphere in the Midwest.
With a vital showdown against bitter rivals Seattle Sounders up next, the Timbers can’t look too far ahead as they look to cap off their two-game road swing with three important points.
Here are three things to look out for in Portland’s late-summer test in the Heartland:
There will be a battle out wide
Neither the Timbers nor Sporting Kansas City lack players capable of changing the game from out wide.
Portland’s Sebastián Blanco and Yimmi Chará often occupy wide channels and can break defenders down as well as stretch the field. Off the bench, head coach Giovanni Savarese has strong options in Marvin Loría and Dairon Asprilla.
On the other end of the field, SKC has its dynamic duo of Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi who both offer the main scoring threat for coach Peter Vermes’ side. Russell and Salloi have combined for 12 goals so far this season.
Each team’s wingers are adept at hugging the touchline, but more than capable of coming in centrally to combine with teammates, making for an intriguing battle to watch play out all evening long.
Step up, Claudio Bravo
Speaking of wide threats, with Sporting’s attackers happy to attack the visitor’s back line all evening long it’s important that the Timbers’ outside backs step up and win the majority of their battles.
Recently, Portland has played three center back formations with a pair of wing backs. Asprilla and Yimmi Chará have taken on the role in recent weeks, with the one consistent starter being left-sided wing back Claudio Bravo.
Bravo, who will likely battle one-on-one against Russell, has silently put together another good season out wide. His 60 won tackles leads the entire league and he has won over 55% of his duels.
Sunday offers the young Argentine another challenge against one of MLS’ most crafty players, and if his performances this season have offered any indication, he will be ready to step up to the challenge.
Two teams desperate for points
In many ways, Portland and SKC are similar: both are located in small(er) markets with a history of success and passionate fanbases. Perhaps that’s why matchups between the two over the years have been intriguing, hard-fought and… relatively even?
That’s right, take a big-picture look at the history between the two franchises and you’ll see that the Timbers have won nine games, SKC have won seven and there have been seven draws. Even Children’s Mercy Park––one of MLS’ more difficult venues––hasn’t given Portland many issues over the years (it hasn’t lost in its last three visits).
On Sunday, both teams will be desperate for the full allotment of points. With 23 points and a negative-22 goal differential, SKC sits dead-last in the Western Conference. The Timbers, meanwhile, are in a three-way tie for 6th place with 33 points and just six points outside of third.
As is usually the case for a late summer game in the Midwest, it will be hot and muggy in suburban Kansas by kickoff. There’s a lot at stake as Portland hopes to return to winning ways; after all, there’s a Cascadia Cup showdown on the periphery.