When the Portland Timbers take the field in St. Paul on Saturday afternoon (12 p.m. PT, ESPN), they will be searching for an elusive result: an away victory against Minnesota United.
In 2017, Portland welcomed the shiny new team to the league in the home opener at Providence Park, crushing Minnesota United in a five goal landslide. Here’s a telling photo of Minnesota's postgame reaction.
Since that day, the Loons—so nicknamed for the state bird on their crest—have reciprocated our hospitality, winning all five league games played on their home turf and ending our Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run in 2019.
Right now, Minnesota United is in third place in the Western Conference and haven't lost since June 25. The Timbers are red-hot too, unbeaten in the last seven and riding high from a 2-1 comeback victory against the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend. A high-noon showdown on cursed ground.
“The belief, the desire and the unity is there,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said of the showdown.
Here are 3 things to know ahead of the clash:
1. Sebastián Blanco is back from suspension
After sitting out last weekend’s game against San Jose, Sebastián Blanco will be available to start. Blanco netted a brace against Minnesota last November during the playoffs in Portland.
Last weekend, the Timbers got the job done without their star Argentine, but will be grateful to have him back for the trip to Minnesota.
2. The Timbers have attacking options all over the field
When opponents face the Timbers, they don’t know where the next goal will come from. Portland’s fluidity in attack has seen six different players etch their names in the scorer’s sheet recently.
Jaroslaw Niezgoda has been on a tear (five goals in the last six games), but so has Santiago Moreno (three goals and two assists in the last five games) and Dairon Asprilla (three goals in the last four).
Versatility has been the key word for Savarese’s team. That depth and production is what has made the Timbers late-season run to the MLS Cup final a trademark of the last several years.
3. Timbers goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic is a beast
For a split second last weekend, the hard-fought comeback against San Jose teetered on a knife’s edge. In the 89th minute, San Jose’s Cristian Espinoza ripped a shot, destined for the back of the net.
Not on Aljaz Ivacic’s watch.
Bailing his teammates out of difficult situations is what Ivacic—affectionately referred to as “Jazzy”—has been doing all season and his season-high six saves on Saturday saw him named to the league’s Team of the Week. On Sunday, the Slovenian keeper took to Twitter, calling himself the “Best in MLS.” Who are we to argue with that?
“Once you start getting games like today, your confidence level grows and then it's about working in the details,” Savarese said after the win against San Jose. “We always had that belief that [Ivacic] could become that goalkeeper and he has proven it.”