After losing 4-1 in Houston on Saturday night, the Portland Timbers are staring down yet another short turnaround before tonight's showdown with the playoff-bound Columbus Crew at Providence Park (7:30 p.m., TV on KPDX).
It's been a strange, sad season in Columbus, and for one simple reason: last year, in the midst of the MLS Cup Playoffs, news broke that Crew owner Anthony Precourt had decided to move the club to Austin.
No official announcement has yet been made, but Austin passed a stadium deal through its city council last month and the overwhelming likelihood is that the Crew — one of MLS's original and most decorated franchises and the first in the league to build a soccer-specific stadium — are playing a lame duck season.
The one beacon of hope is a lawsuit, filed against Precourt's ownership group by Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, based on a law written after Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore stating that tenants of tax-supported facilities must give six months notice before relocating and local investors, or their city, a chance to purchase the team in question.
With the 2019 MLS season less than six months away, and the Crew still selling season tickets for next year, it's unclear whether a six month notice has been given.
In any case, the situation has, understandably, taken its toll. Attendance at MAPFRE Stadium is down 25 percent, with the club spending very little money promoting the team, and manager Gregg Berhalter, linked to the U.S. national team and the LA Galaxy, is almost managing his final games with the club.
On the field, the Crew are having a decent if unspectacular campaign. They currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and are a long-shot to make real noise in the playoffs but a safe bet to get there.
The Crew also played in Texas on Saturday night, drawing FC Dallas 0-0, and, with a must-win home game against Colorado coming up on Saturday, will likely rest a number of starters. One player who should feature is captain Wil Trapp, who, returning from international duty, only played 20 minutes in Dallas.
Unlike in past years, Columbus has struggled for goals — they have the worst attack in the Eastern Conference — but been stingy defensively. Shorthanded tonight, they'll almost certainly try to stay organized in their standard 4-2-3-1 and make the Timbers beat them.
That's a challenge that the Timbers have had mixed success in meeting this season at Providence Park, though they were up to it in their last two home games against Toronto and Colorado.
With Giovani Savarese set to make several changes from the blowout loss to the Dynamo, energy and intensity will be key. If Portland wants to stay in the race for a top-four spot and home Wild Card game, they can't afford to drop points at home.
12 - Clark
4 - Villafaña
24 - Ridgewell
33 - Mabiala
16 - Valentin
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
11 - Polo
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri (C)
99 - Armenteros
— Clark was not at all impressive against Houston, struggling in the air and with rebound control, and there's a good argument to be made for Kendall McIntosh's starting.
— Villafaña didn't start on Saturday night, and should be at left back here. Valentin, who was substituted in Houston, seems more likely than Alvas Powell to play on the right.
— David Guzman should rotate into Lawrence Olum's midfield spot, while it seems like time to bring Samuel Armenteros back into the fold up top.
When last Columbus visited Portland, Clark was in goal for the Crew and the Timbers were raising their 2015 championship banner. It feels like a lifetime ago.
The Timbers need a win in this game, and at home, with the Crew on short rest, they'll get it by a score of 2-1.