After three straight games against Eastern Conference opponents, the Portland Timbers face a crucial early-season stretch with four straight games against teams from the West — starting with a clash against frequent rival Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at Providence Park (7:30 PM, TV on KPDX).
It will be a compelling clash of styles. The Timbers' offense has set the pace in MLS with sixteen goals through six games, while Kansas City has conceded just twice in their first five.
Games between the Timbers and SKC in Portland have rarely been dull.
There was, of course, the Double Post game that — after a 118th minute goal and 22 penalty kicks — began the Timbers' championship run in 2015.
But even in the regular season, Portland and Kansas City have combined for a series of classics. In the last meeting between these two teams, at Providence Park last August, both teams went down to ten men during the first half before the Timbers exploded late to win 3-0. It was in that game that Jack Jewsbury — who turned 36 yesterday — scored his last goal for the club.
That loss was Sporting's first in regulation time in Portland since a Chance Myers own goal decided a game for John Spencer's Timbers in 2012. Kansas City, has, historically, hung very tough at Providence Park.
Saturday will be historic in Portland for another reason. It will be the first time that the Timbers and NWSL Portland Thorns have played a double-header at Providence Park.
The Thorns will start the day by opening their NWSL season against the star-studded Orlando Pride at noon. The Timbers, in a nod to the Thorns, will wear red when they take the field later in the night.
With Vytas finally healthy — and Marco Farfan continuing to play tremendous soccer — the Timbers now have to choose from two starting quality left backs a season after it took them five months to find one.
Last weekend, with Vytas still working his way back to full fitness, starting Farfan was an easy call for Caleb Porter. Whoever starts this week, though, is presumably the starter going forward. It's a big call for Porter, who had no problem going to Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafaña over veterans at various points in the last several years.
Liam Ridgewell is also working his way back to fitness, but with Roy Miller playing well, there's no reason to rush the captain back. He'll likely play next weekend against Vancouver. Darren Mattocks, stretchered off against the Union, should be in the 18.
Feilhaber, who has missed Sporting's last two games with a hamstring strain, is back in training and could be available off the bench as well. SKC is coming off of their best win of the young season, a 3-1 thumping of the Colorado Rapids at Children's Mercy Park.
This should, as all of the Timbers' games against Sporting have been over the last several years, an extremely tight affair. Portland should dominate the ball and play most of the game in the attacking half, but Kansas City will be more than comfortable sitting in and playing on the counter. An early Portland goal could change the game dramatically.
90 - Gleeson
5 - Vytas
7 - Miller
13 - Olum
2 - Powell
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
9 - Adi
This will be a very good test for Portland. Kansas City has the best defense that the Timbers have seen this year — by some margin — and they won't be cowed by the atmosphere. 1-1 draw.