MLS week 8 preview: Portland Timbers vs, Sporting Kansas City
By Philip Mitchell
On Saturday afternoon, April 27, in Kansas City, the Eastern Division leaders Sporting Kansas City host the Western Division’s fourth place team, the Portland Timbers for their only match up of the season.
Both teams came out of week 8 with a bit of disappointment. Sporting Kansas City traveled to the Home Depot Center to face the LA Galaxy in what was to be Landon Donovan’s first home game of the season. They went back to Kansas City empty-handed, losing two to zero.
Further north, at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Portland Timbers faced the infamously challenging San Jose Earthquakes in a random, yet interesting, Western Division battle featuring back-to-back games in weeks 7 and 8. After an early second half goal, the Timbers faced what multiple other MLS teams have suffered: an extra time goal. Scored by rookie substitute Adam Jahn, the extra time strike gave the supporters in the San Jose stands the feeling of a win. Despite the result, PTFC went back to Portland as the only team in the league without a road loss, despite not having a road win on the season.
Simply said, both teams are hungry to rebound when they clash this weekend. But this leaves fans with a very specific question: who has the advantage?
On paper, based on current and last season’s superior standings, one could say easily Vermes and his squad have the upper hand. Those in the Timbers Army, however, do have an argument on their side.
By straight goal production, Portland has the advantage with 11 to SKC’s 8. In addition, Portland has yet to be shut out. Last season at this time, they had been shut out twice after the 8th week. Another stat in Portland's favor includes a current 5 game undefeated streak.
On the flipside, Sporting Kansas City has beaten PTFC in two of three meetings. Although Portland won the most recent match last season, the overall goal aggregate is 5 to 3 for SKC. What has helped Sporting? One word: defense.
For Portland, they face reigning Defender of the Year Matt Besler and French import Aurilien Collin. Frustrating them and breaking them down is no easy task. In addition, having Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic on the outside has been a consistent and major factor in keeping clean sheets at home.
Timber fans were in doubt on whether it was a wise idea to sign former Arsenal / Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre. He alone could be blamed for two of the three goals scored by New York during their season opener. They have also lost multiple players due to injury or “personal reasons”. Lost depth at center back alone has stretched the back line thin and ultimately preventing the back line to come together, similar to what SKC has had for over a season.
So which defensive line will hold? Will Kansas City keep their three home game shutout streak alive? Or could the midfield battle settle the outcome?
Over the off season, both teams added members of the roster at midfield, and they are quite significant.
SKC added MLS veteran Benny Feilhaber and Barcalona academy product Oriol Rosell Argerich. But after two dodgy games, those two helped shape the 5 game shutout streak that was broken in LA last weekend.
Portland, meanwhile, acquired a new face to the midfield via loan, Argentine veteran Diego Valeri from Club Atletico Lanus. Lacking a solid playmaker during the past two seasons caused havoc for PTFC’s ability to control the midfield; the purpose for acquiring Valeri was to fix that very issue.
At the forward position, both squads have dangerous players with contrasting skill sets. For Portland, the versatile Darlington Nagbe can make a mess of any team’s back line. The question for the weekend will be which Nagbe will show up? Will it be the one who scored the goal of the year from 2011, or will it be the one who was subbed out at half time in Colorado earlier this season?
Graham Zusi needs no introduction. He is one of the premier players currently in MLS. He scores, sets up goals, and knows how to get the ball down the field. He has scored against Portland at home and has dominated offensive play in all three matches. So the question here is can he be contained?
In the end, both teams are quite evenly matched up. It appears the back line that holds and the midfield that dominates will lead either team to victory. The question is who will walk away with points? If I have my say, I am betting on Portland.