When Portland Timbers last played New England Revolution, back in April, Jack Jewsbury scored the team’s lone goal in a 1-1 draw. If the Timbers have any hope of reaching the playoffs in this inaugural MLS season, they’re going to need more than that in tonight’s return match. With the worst goal difference among the league’s top fifteen teams and two points separating them from a playoff position, Portland needs to beat New England tonight and need to do so by more than one goal.
That task will be considerably more difficult as it seems forward Jorge Perlaza will either miss the match or be significantly less effective after the sickness that has kept him out of training all week. If Perlaza is indeed missing from the line-up, John Spencer will have conundrum in structuring his starting XI. For starters, Spencer prefers his beloved 4-4-2, especially at home. Given the personnel, this is probably the best formation, especially with the club in need of scoring at this point in the season. But injuries to Eddie Johnson have rendered him unavailable and Spencer does not seem to prefer using Brian Umony outside of the reserves. This leaves Kenny Cooper and Bright Dike as the only forward options. Yet a 4-5-1 with Cooper at the head does not seem to be a realistic option, nor does starting Dike.
Adding to the issue is the lack of playing time given to Darlington Nagbe in the past three games. Playing just eighteen minutes over the past two matches and sitting out entirely against Vancouver Whitecaps before that, Nagbe went from starting a dozen consecutive games to being the star of the reserve team. No one has yet uncovered whether Nagbe’s Generation adidas status has anything to do with his sudden absence from the team, but that theory could be tested tonight as in training this week, Nagbe lined up alongside Cooper in the supposed ‘first XI.’ If Perlaza is too sick to play, will the Timbers risk Nagbe’s significant salary cap discount for 2012? Can Cooper and Nagbe, both players who would rather roam beneath another forward, play together at all?
Defensively, Portland could be faced with yet another change in the central defensive pairing. David Horst could be out of the line-up due to a groin injury sustained last weekend while Futty Danso appears ready to return from the hamstring injury that has kept him out for several weeks. Futty and Eric Brunner have paired well this year, but Horst and Brunner were proving to be a very successful duo in recent weeks. Playing against a side with dynamic options like Benny Feilhaber and Rajko Lekić, Portland will need to be strong in defense so the center backs will again be the key.
Last weekend’s draw against Philadelphia Union was a nice away point and a good way to come back from a long break, but tonight’s game is different. Three points and multiple goals are necessary not only to win the game but to make up any ground on the table. With away games still to play at New York, Vancouver, DC and Salt Lake, home points are a necessity. New England is coming off of an impressive 2-0 win over FC Dallas, so their confidence will be high. It should make for a nice game with the stakes appropriately high.