3 things to know for Sunday's game
Not many outside the Pacific Northwest expected the Portland Timbers to roll into Austin and emerge with three points. But that’s exactly what the Timbers did on Wednesday. After waiting out a lengthy weather delay in Texas, the team earned their first-ever win at Austin FC during the most critical span of the season.
“It was a performance from the entire team knowing that if we did this job well, we could get three points,” said coach Giovanni Savarese after the game. “Credit to the guys. Everybody worked very well in the things we worked on and at the end of the day, a deserved win”
The Timbers know they can’t afford to become complacent, even after a pair of 2-1 victories over the course of a week which includes one against its biggest rivals. No. The Timbers want to keep their momentum rolling come Sunday when Atlanta United comes to town (2:30 pm, FOX, TICKETS).
Here are three things you should be keeping an eye on as you watch the match:
A lineup rotation is inevitable
With three games in nine days, Savarese rotating his lineup come Sunday is all but a forgone conclusion. After rolling out strong lineups against key Western Conference foes, players will need rest and the game against 11th-place Atlanta United presents a prime opportunity to do so.
Some decisions have been taken out of the head coach’s hands, such as the absence of Eryk Williamson due to yellow card accumulation. (Savarese himself will be watching the game from somewhere else—after another yellow in Austin he earned himself his second suspension of the year.) But there’s also opportunities for other players, such as Marvin Loría or Christhian Paredes, to step up in attack and defense and take advantage of their minutes.
On Sunday, the Timbers have an opportunity to showcase their depth as they look to continue climbing the West.
There’s depth at center back
Speaking of depth, if there's any one area the Timbers have several talented options at, it’s central defender.
On Wednesday, Bill Tuiloma and Zac McGraw stepped up to score Portland’s two goals in the win over Austin. Portland has additional options in Dario Zuparic and Larrys Mabiala; all four of whom have started this season.
With the base of its spine serving as a strength, the Timbers have a steady foundation to build on as they chase the playoffs.
There are two home games in row
The Timbers have a prime opportunity to build on recent results in the comfort of their own backyard.
Sunday's game will be followed by a rematch against Minnesota United on September 10 (their last meeting in Minneapolis was a goal-spackled 4-4 thriller). Both games are certainly winnable, but Portland can’t afford to take its foot off the gas.
Savarese’s team already has six victories at home compared to just three on the road. Atlanta United, meanwhile, has won just three of its last 10 games and just once outside the state of Georgia this year.
Just five points separate the Timbers and Loons at the moment, which sets up another six-point game with heavy playoff implications. First, though, they must take care of business on Sunday.