The Portland Timbers haven’t played a competitive match since August 24. With their game against DC United postponed and a scheduled international break in between, Portland will have gone seventeen days without a first team game by the time the Timbers take the field against Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening. It’s true, there was a reserve match against LA Galaxy in the interim, though very few regular starters featured in that one. The question clearly is how the break will affect a Timbers team who rallied two win their last two games after a difficult stretch of three away games.
A rare weekend off, from both games and training, gave the Timbers a chance to relax and get away from the field. Several players were spotted at the coast while others took time to just stay at home with their families. With that behind, the Timbers will look to get three points from an away game for only the second time this season. While Portland has been resting, Philadelphia Union have played twice in the past seven days. An away loss to Real Salt Lake and a bizarre 4-4 home draw to New England Revolution moved the Union into eighth place on the table, now three points clear of Portland but level on games. Having already defeated Philadelphia once this season, Portland can claim the head-to-head tie-breaker (which comes before goal difference) simply by earning a draw at PPL Park.
The Union’s draw with New England saw the emergence of the potential of using Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu together, not to mention the reemergence of Sébastien Le Toux as a scoring threat. When the Union were in Portland in May, Carlos Ruiz was their top weapon and Faryd Mondragón was in goal. Now Ruiz has been sent back to Mexico and Mondragón is out injured. Young Zac MacMath debuted in a starting role against the Revolution and promptly allowed four goals in the first half-hour. Granted, terrible defending was to blame on three of the goals, but it was not exactly the start to a career MacMath or the Union were hoping for. He will certainly be better off with a game behind him but expect the Timbers to try to test MacMath more often than the three shots on target they fired at Mondragón in the first meeting.
This game is a difficult one to predict because of the long lay-off for Portland the fatigue of playing their third game in a week for Philadelphia. An argument could easily be made that the Timbers will have a hard time coming back together while the Union gained momentum by scoring the last three goals of that strange game on Wednesday. Just as easily, one could suggest that Philadelphia expended all of their energy to get that draw from the Revolution and will not be able to respond quickly enough against a healthy and rested Timbers team. Both sides have a lot on the line, as the Union are hoping to stay in the third position in the Eastern Conference and the Timbers just outside the wild card slots.
Portland have two winnable home games coming after Philadelphia (New England and San Jose), so the season is not lost if the Timbers fail to win. But a draw is almost a necessity, given the paucity of opportunities left to pick up points in favorable circumstances. Away trips to New York, DC United and Real Salt Lake are looming as well as the home opener for Vancouver Whitecaps at their new BC Place. Points will be difficult to come by in each game, so a quick trip to Philadelphia against a tired team is a chance that cannot be taken for granted.