After a heart-stopping comeback win over Sporting Kansas City in the rain at Providence Park last weekend, the Portland Timbers will look to win their third game in a row when they face DC United on Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m., TV on Fox Sports 1).
There was a tremendous amount of optimism around DC United entering the 2019 season, and for good reason: the club was coming off of a strong finish to 2018, bringing back a core including Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, and looking forward to a first full season at Audi Field.
Things haven’t gone according to plan. Though DC is in the playoff hunt in the East, and in the hunt for a home game in the first round as well, the club’s recent form has been dire. They’ve only won two of their last eight games, and only two of their last nine against Eastern Conference teams.
Rooney has already announced that he is departing for Derby County at the end of the season, while Acosta has regressed after a sensational 2018 and may be on his way out the door as well. Same goes for other key pieces like Bill Hamid and Gonzalo Jara, who are currently in DC on loan.
If this team wants to make a move — and play up to its talent level — it has to happen now. DC hasn’t played a competitive game since the end of August, when they won in Montreal, and should have a relatively full compliment of players available on Sunday.
DC manager Ben Olsen has tinkered with his system as his team has struggled over the last several months, using a back five at times and shifting back to his standard 4-2-3-1.
The latter formation was what Olsen used in his team’s win in Montreal, which it secured by a lopsided score despite holding just 34 percent possession and completing only 67 percent of its passes. It was ugly soccer, a far cry from what DC was playing at this time last year, but it was effective.
It’s also what we’ll likely see this weekend: DC making the game difficult through the middle of the field, and hitting a target forward — be it Ola Kamara, recently returned to MLS from China, or Rooney — to try to bludgeon the Timbers on the break.
What the Timbers have is a lot more quality going forward than the Impact do. The question is what kind of attack for the Timbers will show up — the attack that sputtered in August and for 80-odd minutes last weekend? Or the one that roared to life against Kansas City in the final ten minutes?
If it’s the latter, it’ll be a good afternoon for Portland. If it’s not, it’ll be another slog.
12 – Clark
4 – Villafaña
5 – Dielna
25 – Tuiloma
2 – Moreira
21 – Chara
22 – Paredes
10 – Blanco
8 – Valeri (C)
17 – Ebobisse
7 – Fernandez
— Cristhian Paredes and Andrés Flores have returned from international duty, and will be available. Renzo Zambrano is also back, but serving the second of a two-game ban.
— Sebastian Blanco, who was held out with a knock against Kansas City, should be back in the lineup as well.
— Brian Fernandez played a big part in the win over Kansas City, but did so from the bench as he battled a stomach bug. He’ll be back in the starting lineup as well.
— Giovani Savarese has, on several occasions over the last two years, frozen players out of the team for unprofessional conduct. Considering how Dairon Asprilla exited last weekend’s game, it seems unlikely that we’ll see much of him over the next month.
The Timbers thumped DC United when they last visited Portland, on the penultimate day of the 2017 season, by a score of 4-0.
With DC United struggling, the Timbers will win their third straight by a score of 2-1.