By Will Conwell
GAME 16: Portland Timbers (5W-7L-3T) vs Sporting Kansas City (4W-6L-5T)
Saturday, July 2, 8:00 p.m. Fox 12
Previous match-up(s): None
Coming off a four goal loss in Dallas, the Timbers desperately need a win after taking one point in the last five games. Until the Dallas debacle, the Timbers have been in games, losing three by only a single goal, but they have largely lacked the effort that characterized their earlier winning efforts. In Dallas the Timbers looked drained and hardly up for the game, getting only two shots on goal to Dallas's nine.
Coach John Spencer has made it clear in the media that starting positions are up for grabs and it is like that we will see several changes made for tonight's game. Most likely to be on the bench are Jeremy Hall, Darlington Nagbe, and Kenny Cooper. Their replacements will be Steve Purdy, Sal Zizzo, and Eddie Johnson. Zizzo and Johnson have featured at length as late game substitutes recently while Steve Purdy has been playing with the El Salvador National Team at the Gold Cup.
All three have played together in reserve matches and will most likely be lined up down the right side of the field for the Timbers, using their established chemistry to make the transition into the first team a smooth one. One more question mark coming into the game will be Captain Jack Jewsbury, who has been struggling with injury throughout the season and who once again missed significant time at training this week.
Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile, have had a turbulent time of it this year. Starting out on a ten game road trip, most Major League Soccer rankings had SKC coming in dead last. However, after some disappointing losses, Kansas City pulled things together and are now on a seven match unbeaten run. Kansas City's recent success has been largely due to the contributions of the many explosive offensive players on their roster including Mexican National Team stalwart Omar Bravo and the most recent MLS player of the month, Graham Zusi.
The Timbers have shown themselves to be capable of great offensive output, scoring three or more goals on three separate occasions, and they will need to bring that offense to a game that will likely be a shootout. Eddie Johnson up top will bring a much different dynamic to the forward partnership with Jorge Perlaza than Kenny Cooper. Johnson will need to be able to play a quick one-two pass with Perlaza to put him through on goal, which could create many scoring chances for the Timbers. This could be particularly effective against a Kansas City back line that has been described as ¬Å“un-athletic¬Â. The Timbers wingers will also need to exploit this as both Sal Zizzo and Khalif Alhassan are gifted dribblers. If they can run at their man with the ball they will be able to create further scoring opportunities.
On defense the Timbers will need to be wary of Kansas City's attack. The 4-3-3 that SKC usually plays lends itself well to fast counter attacks, particularly through Bravo or winger Kai Kamara. The Timbers wingers will need to make sure to track back and cover properly when the fullbacks go forward, to help prevent SKC getting men forward on the break. Finally, the Timbers will need to bring their effort and concentration for the whole game. Any more goals allowed in the final minutes of the game, unmarked men, or ball watching will be a killer blow to the Timbers chances of winning.
LEADING GOAL SCORERS
Jack Jewsbury – 4
Kenny Cooper – 3
Jorge Perlaza – 3
Rodney Wallace -2
Mamadu ¬Å“Futty¬Â Danso – 2
Eric Brunner – 1
Kevin Goldthwaite – 1
NEXT 5 MATCHES
7/7 vs Club America
7/10 vs Seattle Sounders
7/16 @ Chicago
7/20 vs West Bromwich Albion
7/23 @ Columbus
This is a must win game for the Timbers and it is within their ability to do so. The Timbers must contain SKC's offense while combining well up top to make their own. Coach Spencer will be hoping that line-up changes and a raucous home crowd will spur the Timbers to victory, otherwise the playoffs will start to look like a more and more distant hope.