Match previews / MLS / Union

Match Preview: Philadelphia Union vs Portland Timbers

Who: Philadelphia Union vs Portland Timbers

 

What: MLS Regular Season Game

 

Where: Providence Park


When: Saturday March 23rd, 10:30 PM EST


Watch: Apple TV+ – MLS Season Pass

 

Whistle: Not available at time of production

 

The Philadelphia Union continue their travels this Saturday in Portland with a matchup against the Timbers. After their CONCACAF exit the Union were able to earn a hard fought point in Austin last week. Meanwhile, the Timbers were handed their first loss by the Dynamo. The Union will look to break their winless streak in MLS but they will have to overcome significant international absences to do so. 

 

Scouting Report: Portland Timbers

The city of Portland has a long history of soccer. The original Portland Timbers won the inaugural NASL Championship in 1975. Since expanding into MLS the Timbers have been a usually consistent franchise, winning MLS Cup in 2015 and finishing as runners up twice. However, of late, the club has been surrounded in turmoil and controversy off the field which has probably played some part in causing a decline in on-field performance. Currently, new manager Phil Neville is heading the ship.

 

Hired by Portland heading into 2024. His coaching resume was pretty barren until he landed the England Women’s job. After being carried by the Lioness players to a bronze medal at the 2019 World Cup, he left for the Miami head coaching gig that a former teammate and longtime friend got for him. Ultimately he was fired by Beckham just before Messi arrived with the team. Whether or not he was the problem is up for debate. 

 

That being said, the Timbers have started the season well enough. They sit at 3rd in the West with a 2-1-1 record. Their wins include a 4-1 shellacking of Colorado and a spectacular late comeback against NYCFC. Notably, they scored on some very low xG shots against the Rapids and NYC, so their total of 8 goals scored is inflated. Additionally, despite Neville mainly employing the defensively rigid 4-2-3-1 formation, their defense has been disjointed, particularly against DC United and Houston. 

International duty causes Portland to be without starting GK, and local persona non grata, Maxime Crepeau. His Canadian teammate Kamal Miller will also be unavailable. This could spell goals for the Union.

 

However, in attack Portland still has a wealth of options. Longtime MLSer Dairon Asprilla has been starting up top. A tricky player, he is capable of scoring from distance. Winger Antony has had a rapid start to his 2024 campaign with 3 goals and 1 assist. He is a very skillful player and as a whole, the team dribbles a lot. The Timbers also announced the signing of DP forward Jonathan Rodríguez from Club América. While his visa process may still be ongoing, if he plays, that would make their final third prowess even more lethal. The Timbers attack will threaten a Union defense that has struggled in 2024.

 

Injury Report: 

OUT: Claudio Bravo (left knee)

OUT: Marvin Loria (left knee)

OUT: Felipe Mora (right foot)

QUESTIONABLE: Zac McGraw (knee)

 

Suspended: N/a

 

International Duty: 

Miguel Araujo (D, Peru) 

Maxime Crepeau (GK, Canada)

Kamal Miller (D, Canada)

 

Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union

 

The key issue for the Boys in Blue is this: Will they be able to handle missing so many key players to international duty?

 

The good news is that most of the defense and forwards are available. This portion of the lineup is simple. Wagner, Elliot, Glesnes and Mbaizo will start. No Blake is always cause for anxiety, but at least Semmle is competent enough between the sticks. Uhre and Carranza will surely also remain in the eleven.

 

The bad news is that the midfield is missing key players. They have Sullivan and Bedoya. After that things get… interesting. Losing both Martinez and Bueno is rough. No McGlynn is also problematic. McGlynn and Martinez add a lot to our attack, not to mention Martinez’s defensive tenacity. But, McGlynn’s passing in particular will be missed. Gazdag’s absence is not great either. Despite the criticism, it’s undeniable that the team is better with him in it. 

 

Barring a return of the Christmas Tree (please no), or a new formation, expect Curtin to stick with the Diamond. It’s possible he rolls out the 3-5-2 for the first time this year but the lack of proper CB depth seems to preclude this option. 

 

So, who plays the 8 opposite Sullivan? Well, it is possible that Sanders Ngabo makes his debut. The winter signing made his U2 debut last Sunday and played well in their come-from-behind win against TFC II. He can operate as a 6 or 8 which is exactly where the Union are thinnest. Defensively, he was solid, but his ability to thread forward passes was also notable. 

 

Finally, at attacking mid, Rafanello should return to the squad. The last time the squad rotated in Kansas, Curtin played him there. This produced a somewhat lackluster offense but Curtin credited him in the postgame saying, “… he did his job”. It’s likely that Rafanello draws another start at the 10. It will be interesting to see how he performs if he does.

 

Injury Report:

OUT: Leon Flach (left shoulder)

OUT: Isaiah LeFlore (right knee)

OUT: Holden Trent (finger)

 

Suspended: N/a

 

International Duty: 

Tai Baribo (F, Israel)

Andre Blake (GK, Jamaica)

Jesús Bueno (M, Venezuela)

Dániel Gazdag (M, Hungary)

Nathan Harriel (D, USA U-23)

Damion Lowe (D, Jamaica)

José Martínez (M, Venezuela)

Jack McGlynn (M, USA U-23)

 

Key Matchup: Diamond vs 2-3

It’s entirely possible the Timbers are able to overload the center of the field, especially if they stick with Neville’s preferred 4-2-3-1. This would naturally place 5 mids in comparison to the Union’s 4. If you consider the probable skill sets and inexperience of who could be in midfield, it is worrisome. Diego Chara and Eryk Williamson are two top defensive mids for Portland who could well impose their will in this game.

 

Player to Watch: Julian Carranza

The Union will be relying on King Julian to make some big time plays in the Rose City. On a night when the midfield will be at risk of getting overrun, the Union will need him not only for his goal scoring ability but also his defensive work rate. A hat trick might be too much to hope for but it would be a surefire way to get some momentum back in MLS.

 

Prediction: 2-2 Portland Timbers

All things considered a draw would feel like a win here. Honestly, I was sold on a loss but after researching the Timbers, their record seems somewhat fraudulent. Neville is not a good coach and they’ve been scoring some pretty lucky goals. The Union are still striving to hit their ceiling and will be dealing with frankly too many absences. But, the common thread between these two teams right now is defensive disorganization. Sloppy play leads to something of a goal fest and the Union will walk away without a win but remain undefeated. Get ready for some #MLSafterdark!

 

12 Comments

  1. Deez Nuggs says:

    I love #MLSafterdark! Hoping for some ridiculousness. Like straight reds rescinded by var then double var’d to be reinstated.

  2. C’mon the U!

    Keep the lumberjack silent !

  3. paulcontinuum2022 says:

    Never a good sign when you have a must-win game…in MARCH. I’m more worried about Blake, who gave up 3 to a middling USMNT in the Nations League semi. Unless things change in a hurry, I fear we’ve only just begun to plumb the depths of this barrel.

  4. Here are the refs.
    .
    REF: Cristian Campo Hernandez
    AR1: Fevzi Demirhan
    AR2: Ryan Jung
    4TH: Felix Granados
    VAR: TBD
    AVAR: TBD
    .

  5. Andy Muenz says:

    This will be the first game in the history of the Union that I have no intention of watching either live or at the first available opportunity.

    • I took a nap and I’m looking forward to it.
      I have no false expectations, but the Union lineup will be filled with guys who have something to prove. That can produce some very exciting soccer.
      Chris Donovan with the goal of the game.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      Well you missed out

  6. Oh my god they won it

  7. Kimberly Root says:

    With so many interesting changes, Portland scouting couldn’t have predicted the lineup/play.

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