On Saturday evening, just three days after a 3-2 home win over Columbus the came with plenty of fireworks both on the field and off of it, the Portland Timbers will take the field at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for their fourth-ever meeting with Minnesota United (5:00 p.m., TV on KPDX).
After a mostly nightmarish first season in MLS last year, the Loons' sophomore campaign has been slightly better, and, in a way, even more disappointing. The team currently sits in tenth place, 14 points off the red line, with six games to go.
Minnesota did play some fun soccer during the summer after the arrival of the brilliant Darwin Quintero, but things pretty well fell apart in August –- around the time that the club made the deeply unpopular decision to trade longtime forward Christian Ramirez to LAFC in favor of new DP signing Angelo Rodriguez.
Supporters' trust and confidence in GM Manny Lagos and manager Adrian Heath seem to be at all-time lows. Both men's jobs seem relatively safe, but the club is going to face intense pressure to win next year when they move into their new stadium in St. Paul.
The final month of this season, then, with the playoffs out of sight, are about building towards 2019. For a number of players and their coach the stakes are high.
Minnesota is winless in seven and coming off of five straight games on the road, but they did get an encouraging point at Real Salt Lake last weekend and should be eager to play.
The Loons are certainly capable of moving the ball and playing progressively — though their goalscoring numbers have dropped significantly since the Ramirez trade — and the likes of Quintero and Miguel Ibarra might be difficult for the Timbers to handle.
The problem for Minnesota is that its defense, which was the worst in league history a year ago, has barely improved this season. Heath has experimented this year with a 5-3-2 to try to shore up the unit, but has gone back to a standard 4-2-3-1 in recent weeks with center backs dipping in and out of the lineup.
Where does this leave the Timbers? They're 0-3-1 with a -9 goal difference in their last four road games. They need to get stuck in early and often, and keep their shape — especially if, as is expected, they're going to be without a number of starters.
12 - Clark
4 - Villafaña
18 - Cascante
24 - Ridgewell
2 - Powell
13 - Olum
20 - Guzman
14 - Flores
11 - Polo
10 - Blanco (C)
17 - Ebobisse
— The likes of Diego Valeri and Diego Chara, who played 90 minutes on Saturday and again on Wednesday, should not be expected to feature.
— We will likely see a lineup similar to what the Timbers used in New England, with players who didn't start against the Crew — almost certainly Olum, Cascante, and Powell — involved in this one.
— If anything, this game should give us a few clues as to how Gio Savarese sees the depth chart for the final month and change of the regular season.
Things do not go well for the Timbers on their trip to Minnesota last year. Marco Farfan was pulled at halftime, Sebastian Blanco was sent off, Abu Danladi netted the winner for the Loons.
The Timbers, understandably, went all in on Wednesday night's game. They'll pay the price here. Minnesota wins 2-1.