The Portland Timbers are back on the right side of the Western Conference standings after a win equal parts improbable and impressive against Sporting Kansas City last Sunday at Providence Park.
This Saturday, the Timbers welcome back captain Liam Ridgewell to the lineup as they make their first trip of the year to face meandering Eastern Conference club DC United (4:00 PM, TV on KPDX). The second trip of the year to DC? It will be in September — not for a soccer game, but to visit the White House.
This the first meeting of the year between the Timbers and DC United. The last time these clubs met was on a Wednesday night at Providence Park in May 2015. Portland entered that game pinned to the bottom of the Western Conference, returning home from a dismal road-trip that included losses to Houston and Toronto.
The response from the Timbers Army that night was the infamous "Same As It Ever Was" protest, with a banner carrying that message below a red line hanging in the North End. But Portland won that game 1-0, behind an early goal from Maxi Urruti, and it'd be the springboard for a torrid early summer that would see the team win five consecutive home games.
Portland's last trip to the nation's capital came all the way back in 2013 — a game that the Timbers won 2-0 behind goals from Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe in either half. The 2014 meeting ended 3-2 for Portland's first win of the year, nine games into the season, clinched by an Urruti goal in stoppage time.
That game had plenty of drama — Gaston Fernandez had the Timbers ahead after just thirty seconds, while Futty Danso would score his last goal for the club off a corner towards the end of the first half. The future of the team Futty plays for now, Rayo OKC in the NASL, is uncertain at best after a major shakeup last week.
The Timbers will be getting a boost in the return of Ridgewell, who hasn't played since the Seattle game in mid-July while dealing with a calf problem. Ridgewell will likely take Amobi Okugo out of the lineup, though there's an argument to be made that Okugo should continue and Jermaine Taylor should be dropped.
Portland will be without Diego Chara, who was sent off for an off-the-ball incident involving Benny Feilhaber early in the match last Sunday. Without Chara, and with Ben Zemanski unlikely to be available, Jack Jewsbury and Darlington Nagbe are likely to play as the Timbers' central midfielders.
Nagbe had arguably his best game of the season last weekend in central midfield, and there's reason to be excited about him continuing in that position. There's also reason to be intrigued by the 4-4-2 formation that the Timbers played against Sporting, and Jack McInerney should continue up top with Fanendo Adi.
Lucas Melano will likely be the beneficiary of Chara's absence, with his inclusion on the wing likely. Darren Mattocks should be available for the first time since the New York Red Bulls game in early July, and could get minutes on the wing as well.
DC has a fairly healthy — if entirely impressive — setup. Lloyd Sam and Patrick Mullins, both brought by the club in recent weeks, could feature. One factor not to be overlooked in this game is the weather: Temperatures could reach over 100 degrees at RFK Stadium at game-time.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
24 - Ridgewell (C)
4 - J. Taylor
5 - Vytas
13 - Jewsbury
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri
26 - Melano
99 - McInerney
9 - Adi
It's hard not to feel good about the Timbers after how they played against Kansas City, but this is still a team that has been highly inconsistent and hasn't won on the road all year. It's going to be a stiflingly hot day at RFK, and the level of soccer likely won't be high. A 1-1 draw seems most likely.