USA Today

Last weekend, the Portland Timbers dropped a hard-fought game at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas. Now, Sporting Kansas City returns to Providence Park for the first time since last year's Wild Card game for another critical six-pointer in the Western Conference playoff race (1:00 PM, TV on ESPN).

This isn't a must-win game for the Timbers, but it's close. Portland enters this game sitting in seventh place in the West, five points behind Kansas City, and the numbers don't lie — the Timbers have won just once over a playoff team all season. It's time to start making these home games count.

The History

Although the Timbers have made plenty of progress off the field in the last two weeks, making three significant defensive signings, it's been a rough stretch for the team on the field.

Since Portland beat the Seattle Sounders three weeks ago, Nat Borchers was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles, the team lost to LA, lost to Kansas City last Sunday, and needed a stoppage-time goal from Diego Valeri to squeak out a victory against El Salvadorian minnows CD Dragon in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday.

The game against Kansas City last weekend, the first of the season between the two teams, was a war from the word go. Jacob Peterson got the only goal from a free-kick just after halftime in the 1-0 decision. Historically, the series between these two teams has been as tight as any in MLS.

The Timbers haven't scored a goal in regular season play against Sporting Kansas City since the spring of 2013, and they've never beaten Kansas City in Portland in normal time. The last time a Timber scored a regular season goal against SKC in Portland? Darlington Nagbe's MLS Goal of the Year in 2011.

The Tactics

The team that Caleb Porter played on Wednesday night in the Champions League was almost completely first-choice — with only Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Melano rested — and we should see a similar lineup for the Timbers on Sunday.

There are a few injury concerns. Liam Ridgewell has suffered a setback in regard to his calf injury, while Ben Zemanski, Zarek Valentin, and Darren Mattocks are all out with various knocks. New center backs Steven Taylor and Gbegna Arokoyo are also likely a week or more from featuring.

Without Ridgewell, the Timbers will continue with Jermaine Taylor and Amobi Okugo in the central defense. Vytas is likely to make his first MLS start at left back, while further up the field, Jack Jewsbury — who played on Wednesday — is the like-for-like replacement for Zemanski. Porter's other option is an attacking formation change, which would likely result in a start for Ned Grabavoy or Jack McInerney.

Kansas City will have a number of players missing as well. Goalkeeper Tim Melia is expected to miss out again, with captain Matt Besler injured as well. Besler's fellow US international Graham Zusi is could be on the bench, but this will likely be the same SKC team that beat the Timbers last weekend.

The Lineup

90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
4 - J. Taylor
18 - Okugo
5 - Vytas
13 - Jewsbury
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
26 - Melano
9 - Adi

The Pick

Kansas City isn't overly talented, but they're tough as nails and never make things easy on the Timbers. 1-1 draw.