July 4th was a success for the Portland Timbers, as the team took a shutout and deserved road point from their game with the then-Western Conference leading Colorado Rapids on Monday. The Timbers haven't lost in their last six MLS games — a streak which stretches back to May.
On Sunday, the defending MLS Cup champions will look to extend their unbeaten run and pick up their first road victory of the season when they play the New York Red Bulls in Harrison (3:00 PM, TV on ESPN2). A win would take Portland back above the red line with three crucial home games fast approaching.
Sunday will mark the Timbers' first trip to New Jersey in over two years. In May of 2014, Portland won 2-1 at New York behind a brace from Maxi Urruti. Red Bull Arena has historically been a kind venue to the Timbers, who also won there in 2012.
The fireworks in this series have come at Providence Park. The two teams have played a pair of thrilling 3-3 draws in Portland, with the Red Bulls coming back from two down in a game in 2011, and the Timbers storming back from two down on Opening Day — the debut of both Caleb Porter and Mike Petke as MLS managers — in 2013.
Last season's meeting was the Red Bulls' finest hour in this series — a commanding 2-0 win over the Timbers in Portland. It would be Will Johnson's last start for the club.
The Timbers fielded a team without Diego Valeri or Liam Ridgewell in Colorado on Monday, but both players participated in some aspects of training this week and could be available to play. With two games next week, however, Porter won't want to take any chances with two of his star men.
Adam Kwarasey is still working his way back, so Jake Gleeson will remain in goal. The Timbers have been heavily linked in recent days with Lithuanian fullback Vytautas Andriuskevicius, but with no signing official, Zarek Valentin — or possibly Jermaine Taylor depending on Ridgewell's status — will play at left back.
The Timbers appear settled further up the field. Ben Zemanski and Diego Chara are the central midfielders, with room for Darren Mattocks on the wing if Valeri can't start. Both Fanendo Adi and Lucas Melano look in good form.
The Red Bulls, Supporters' Shield winners last year, have struggled of late. They haven't won four, with a first loss to rival NYCFC coming at Yankee Stadium last weekend. On Thursday, the Red Bulls made a big move — trading winger Lloyd Sam to DC United.
Jesse Marsch's system is fairly well-established at this point — his team will high press, and can be vulnerable on the counter. They could also be vulnerable in at center back, with both Chris Duval and Aurelien Collin suspended. Damien Parrinelle, returning from a torn ACL, could make his first start of the season.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
4 - Taylor
7 - Borchers
16 - Valentin
14 - Zemanski
21 - Chara (C)
22 - Mattocks
6 - Nagbe
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
The Timbers appear to be hitting their stride at a good time, especially defensively. But Portland still has injury concerns, and while they've certainly endured a tough stretch, the Red Bulls will be eager to get back on track at home. 1-1 draw.