After a two week break from MLS play, the Portland Timbers jump back into action tonight at Providence Park looking to start the second half of the season in the same lively vain in which they started the first (7:30 p.m., TV on ROOT Sports).
The Timbers' opponent tonight will be Real Salt Lake, an old foe fallen on hard times. RSL's -17 goal differential is tied for the worst mark in MLS — but the club did put six goals past the LA Galaxy in their last outing, and, as has been well documented, there have been no easy wins for the Timbers of late.
This is the first meeting of the year between the Timbers and Salt Lake, and first coaching matchup in Portland between Caleb Porter and Mike Petke since the pair began their professional coaching careers alongside each other in the opening game of the 2013 season — a thrilling 3-3 draw between the Timbers and New York Red Bulls.
Portland got the better of last season's series — coming away with two draws and what, at the time, appeared to be a hugely important 1-0 win at Providence Park in September — but it was RSL that ended up in the playoffs thanks to the Timbers' final day collapse in Vancouver.
Salt Lake was once a primary foil of the Timbers, but that changed with the trade of Nat Borchers from RSL to Portland ahead of the 2015 season. Since then, the Timbers are unbeaten against RSL — going 2-0-1 in Sandy and 1-0-2 in Portland.
In fact, Real Salt Lake hasn't beaten the Timbers in Portland since the second leg of the 2013 Western Conference Final, which Jason Kreis' team won 1-0 on the strength of a goal from one-time Timbers expansion draft pick and former Oregon State Beaver Robbie Findley.
The Timbers are still dealing with myriad absences and injuries, and were not at all aided by Bruce Arena's decision to call Darlington Nagbe into the U.S. Gold Cup team for the knockout rounds of that competition.
That news means that Nagbe will miss tonight's game, as well as the contest Sunday in Vancouver. David Guzman, whose Costa Rica team has also advanced in the Gold Cup, is likely out for both games as well. Alvas Powell and Darren Mattocks, with Jamaica, are in the same boat.
Liam Ridgewell and Amobi Okugo remain out for the foreseeable future on the injury front, while the statuses of four players — Diego Chara, Vytas, Marco Farfan, and new center back import Larrys Mabiala — are up in the air.
Chara, Vytas, and Farfan are all dealing with minor injuries, while Mabiala is trying to work his way up to full fitness after joining the Timbers this month from his offseason in Turkey. That Mabiala didn't play for T2 over the weekend suggests that he will, at the least, be in the 18.
When it's all said and done, we should see a Timbers lineup very similar to the one that played against Chicago in the team's last game. Chara's inclusion would be the biggest boost — the Colombian was originally supposed to miss a month after hurting his hamstring against Seatttle, but, unsurprisingly, he's recovering well ahead of schedule.
RSL played and showed well against Manchester United in Utah on Monday night, with Petke limiting his starters to 30 minutes. Salt Lake has been gashed defensively several times this year, and their midfield is weak, but they've got a core of young attacking talent that the Timbers need to take seriously.
One player unlikely to take part for RSL is striker Yura Movsisyan, who is dealing with a hip injury and could be on his way out of the club anyway. Former Timber David Horst is in line to start for the visitors at center back.
90 - Gleeson
5 - Vytas
7 - Miller
33 - Mabiala
16 - Valentin
13 - Olum
14 - Zemanski
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri (C)
27 - Asprilla
9 - Adi
The time off will have done the this team some good. Expect to see Fanendo Adi back amongst the goals, and the Timbers back in the win column. They triumph 3-1.