It's been a busy, disconcerting 48 hours for the Portland Timbers. There are, as of now, three stories to follow. Most importantly, and most troublingly, is the allegation from LAFC striker Adama Diomande that a Timbers player racially abused him during Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup game.
That game, which the Timbers lost 3-2, is now under protest — Portland asking the U.S. Soccer Federation to investigate whether LAFC fielded an ineligible player. The draw for the semifinals of the competition has been postponed, pending an investigation.
Finally, there are the rumors surrounding the club's second all-time leading scorer Fanendo Adi. The Nigerian was held out of Wednesday night's game, and appears set to be transferred away from the club after more than four years in Portland.
With all of this in the air, this Saturday night's game at Providence Park against the Montreal Impact is, as of now, a day out, little more than an afterthought. Nevertheless, here's what to expect from it (8:00 p.m., TV on KPDX).
Montreal changed managers this winter, bringing in the highly-rated former Lyon and Aston Villa coach Remi Garde to replace Mauro Biello.
The Frenchman immediately set about remaking the roster, shipping out a number of veterans and bringing in a host of new players in a near-total overhaul of what had been for several years an aging, irregularly competitive team.
It didn't go well. The Impact were a tire fire over the first three months of the season, losing ten of their first thirteen games and shipping an astounding 29 goals in the process. For a time, they were on pace to break the MLS record for most goals conceded in a season.
Since the beginning of June, however, Garde has righted the ship. The Impact have improved defensively, gotten a handful of characteristically brilliant performances from Ignacio Piatti, and reeled off six wins in their last seven — including a 1-0 victory over Vancouver on Wednesday night in the Canadian Championship.
The Impact have been pragmatic of late, both at home and on the road. They don't play great soccer, but they've stiffened defensively, have a tough central midfield that includes Samuel Piette and Saphir Taider, and are dangerous on the counter.
Good teams will eventually pick them apart — see New York City's 3-0 win a week-and-a-half ago — but the Impact now know how to stick in games.
It'll be up to the Timbers, much as it was in their last home game against San Jose, to run the game. That'll be a challenge with Diego Chara suspended, and will likely require improved distribution from a midfielder or a forward player dropping deeper to help facilitate.
The kind of quick start that the Timbers got against San Jose, would be hugely beneficial. The longer the game goes 0-0, the more Montreal benefits — just as Sporting Kansas City did when they hung on for a scoreless draw in Portland back in June.
1 - Attinella
16 - Valentin
18 - Cascante
33 - Mabiala
2 - Powell
13 - Olum
14 - Flores
11 - Polo
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri (C)
99 - Armenteros
— Chara is suspended, and we all know what that means.
— Andrés Flores, who didn't start either of the games in LA, and didn't play at all on Wednesday night, seems likely to step into Chara's place.
— Savarese is unlikely to play five at the back at home, so the formation question should boil down to the deployment of the front six. With Polo back, the 4-3-2-1 seems more likely than the 4-4-2 diamond.
— Liam Ridgewell, you ask? He's been dealing with a knock, but isn't listed on this week's injury report. If Savarese wants to bring him back into the team, now's the hour.
Montreal has not yet suffered a defeat in Portland in MLS play. They won here in 2013, and got a draw in 2016 thanks to this rather sensational goal from Piatti.
Portland should win this game, but with Chara out, and Wednesday's events still fresh, this one may just finish 1-1.