After consecutive 2-1 road losses to Vancouver on Saturday and Dallas on Wednesday, the Portland Timbers find themselves, not for the first time this year, badly in need of a response ahead of another marquee, nationally-televised home match against New York City FC (4:30 PM, TV on FOX Sports 1).
This will be high-spending, low-achieving NYCFC's first trip to Portland since joining MLS in 2015. The teams met for the first time ever last April at Yankee Stadium, with the Timbers grabbing a late 1-0 win thanks to Dairon Asprilla's first goal for the club.
There has been plenty of change at NYCFC since that day. The club signed Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, labored through a difficult expansion season which included three losses to the cross-town rival New York Red Bulls, missed the playoffs, and fired manager Jason Kreis.
In Kreis' place has stepped former French World Cup winner Patrick Vieira, whose early results with NYCFC have been mixed. The club currently sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but have just one more point than the Western Conference's ninth-place Timbers.
Sunday will bring Pirlo and David Villa to Providence Park for the first time — along with Lampard in a non-playing capacity — and will mark a last chance for Pirlo to make an impression before Antonio Conte announces Italy's Euro 2016 team.
Caleb Porter found a starting eleven he liked in the team that beat Toronto at Providence Park two Sundays ago, but that team was unable to replicate their display against TFC in either of the last two games in Vancouver and Dallas.
And now Porter has injury problems. Both Diego Chara and Darren Mattocks have been ruled out for Sunday due to injuries suffered in the Dallas game. Chara's injury is minor, but Mattocks will be out for four to six weeks.
Ben Zemanski looks the most likely bet to replace Chara against NYCFC, though Jack Jewsbury played the #6 superbly during last year's stretch run. Jack Barmby could be in line for a first start in Mattocks' place, seeing as Dairon Asprilla hasn't appeared since the Toronto game, and didn't travel with the team to either road match in the last week.
Porter has to decide how he wants to play NYCFC, a team that likes to keep the ball but often looks ill-equipped to do so. Porter usually employs an even-handed approach at home, but, considering New York City's struggles this year against high-pressing teams, he might opt to play on the front foot.
NYCFC has adopted something of a 4-3-3 hybrid in recent weeks, packing the central midfield around Pirlo. This game could also pit Mix Diskerud — the player the Timbers originally wanted to sign to be their #10 — against the player they signed instead, Diego Valeri.
90 - Gleeson
16 - Valentin
24 - Ridgewell (C)
7 - Borchers
15 - Klute
14 - Zemanski
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri
23 - Barmby
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
The last time the Timbers had their backs to the wall, they responded with an intense, hard-fought 3-1 win against San Jose. A similar performance should be expected here — and considering that NYCFC isn't half the team the Earthquakes are, a similar result should follow. 3-1 Portland.