A win against unbeaten Sporting Kansas City
(7-0-0) this Saturday (JELD-WEN field, 7:30 pm) would arguably be the most important victory the embattled Portland Timbers
(1-4-1) could achieve this season, following a four-game losing streak and a lot of shaken confidence.
It will also likely be the toughest team that Portland will face all year.
In many respects Sporting Kansas City is a nightmare for the Portland team. They are a large and physically aggressive possession team whose attacks come from the wings, and who rely on interrupting plays in the other team’s backfield.
One by one, Kansas City’s strengths pick at the Timbers’ weaknesses: the game against far-inferior Chivas USA showed Portland’s susceptibility to being rattled by physical play, and marking attacking wings has not so far been the Timbers’ strong point.
The litany of what Sporting Kansas City has achieved so far this year continues with their brick wall of a defense. They have allowed only one goal this season, a late goal by the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Sebastien Le Toux April 18. Up until their matchup with Real Salt Lake April 14, Kansas City went 335 minutes without allowing a single shot on goal.
But Portland also has a unique opportunity to poach from a tired Kansas City team who is playing their third game in only eight days. The same scheduling favored Portland in their 3-0 hometown drubbing of the seemingly unbeatable Los Angeles Galaxy last year.
Aside from a recent injury to defender Julio Cesar, Kansas City has started the same 10 players in every game since the season began, with substitutions coming only late in the game. After a tough battle against Real Salt Lake and a road trip through Vancouver, if Kansas City decides to finally show a weakness this could be the time.
Keep in mind, also, that despite a lot of missed chances Portland is no slouch in the scoring department; the team’s eight goals place them in the top third of teams in the league for point making, and the last few games show signs that striker Kris Boyd
is starting to connect better with the Portland midfield, particularly Eric Alexander.
The real difficulty will be in containing the offense of Sporting Kansas City. Midfielder Graham Zusi
has tormented defenses from a strong attacking midfield position, while strikers Kei Komara and C.J. Sapong have logged 4 and 3 points, respectively. If Mike Chabala
and Steve Purdy
start again in the backfield, this will be the lineup’s most arduous test. Purdy’s size could certainly be a help in holding up against a large, aggressive Kansas City offensive group (Kamara is 6’3”, while Sapong is 6’1”).
But against Los Angeles, the Timbers' backfield allowed 3 goals, 11 shots on goal, and 9 corner kicks. A similar performance on Saturday will be deadly for the Portland team; Sporting Kansas City knows how to capitalize on weaknesses in the backfield, and blind clearances by Portland defenders are likely to come back as shots on goal.
There is—as many have pointed out, again and again—a great deal of talent on the Portland team. With no small amount of luck for the Portland side, talent will meet opportunity and the team will come out with a Cinderella victory. It is perhaps not the best bet to lay down on the books, but stranger things have happened.