The Portland Timbers got their first win of the season in their home debut last weekend against Minnesota United, but the degree of difficulty will be ratcheted up on Sunday afternoon when league-leading New York City comes calling (3:00 p.m., TV on Fox Sports 1).
It's hard to overstate how impressive NYCFC has been this spring.
Patrick Vieira's team is 5-0-2, having already won at Kansas City and San Jose and, last week, gone toe-to-toe with Atlanta in a 2-2 drawn in front of more than 45,000 at Mercedes Benz Stadium. They own the league's best goalscoring record and best goal difference, and have taken full points against the Western Conference.
What's made NYCFC's start even more impressive is that they've mostly been without David Villa, who has missed most of the last month with a calf injury. New DP Jesus Medina has been fabulous, as has 5'6 Swiss import Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and the defense is giving up less than a goal per game. If all that isn't enough, Villa returns to the starting lineup this weekend.
The lone area in which NYC has looked particularly vulnerable has been set pieces, and the Timbers will likely need to steal a goal from one on Sunday.
New York City is one of the most tactically distinct teams in the league. They build out of the back, no matter the conditions, are rock solid through central midfield, and have a front line that does a ton of work on both sides of the ball and can be lethal in transition.
No team has combated that combination all that successfully this year. Atlanta, high-octane as they are, had to sit back for much of last Sunday's game and absorb pressure as NYC controlled the tempo and mostly contained the game in the middle third of the field.
None of that bodes particularly well for a Timbers team that was out-possessed and arguably out-played at home by Minnesota last weekend.
The feeling after that game was that Timbers would dump the 4-3-2-1 and revert back to the 4-2-3-1, but NYC likes to play through the middle of the field and it's not entirely clear that Andy Polo, the third player in that would-be trio behind Fanendo Adi, has any real attacking instinct. Savarese has his work cut out for him.
90 - Gleeson
16 - Valentin
25 - Tuiloma
33 - Mabiala
2 - Powell
21 - Chara
22 - Paredes
11 - Polo
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
9 - Adi
— Jake Gleeson came up with a couple of outstanding saves in the first hour of the Minnesota game, but pretty much fell apart down the stretch. If he plays on Sunday, it'll be under heavy pressure.
— Still no sign of Liam Ridgewell, but the Timbers have the worst defense in the league through seven games and have given up multiple goals in each of their last three outings with Bill Tuiloma and Larrys Mabiala at center back.
— Unclear what's going on with Dairon Asprilla, who was fined the week before the Orlando game, played in that game, then didn't make the 18 last week against Minnesota, and started for T2 on Wednesday night.
— Vytas and David Guzman remain on the injured list.
NYCFC's 2-1 upset win in Portland in May 2016 was a seminal moment in the club's transformation under Vieira two years ago.
The Timbers haven't truly been underdogs at home in a very long time, but they will be on Sunday. New York City is leagues ahead of Portland at this stage in the season, and they'll win 2-1.