The Columbus Crew
(2-4-1, 7 points) is a team that the Portland Timbers
can and should beat May 5 at Jeld-Wen Field. The Crew are coming off a four-game losing streak and will likely be down two forwards, blunting an offense that has already gone nearly scoreless on the road.
Of course, the Montreal Impact
was also a team that Portland could
have beaten, and should
have beaten. Portland lost 2-0 to the Impact on April 28 in a listless performance that ended, familiarly,
with two goals scored in the final 15 minutes.
Portland’s play has been downright irreconcilable all season, with minutes of wonderfully focused action followed by confusion and collapse. The Timbers (2-5-1, 7 points) recently defeated what is arguably the best team in the league (Sporting Kansas City, 1-0, on April 21), only to lose decisively to the league’s second worst—Montreal—the very next week.
Injuries to key players continue to plague the Timbers, but this cannot tell the full story. Defender Mike Chabala
’s replacement last week, recently acquired defender Steven Smith
, had a really bad day in Montreal. Smith was called for a handball in the box that led to Montreal’s first goal on a penalty kick. And he was beaten on the second goal by Montreal’s Siniša Ubiparipović. (Timber replacement goalkeeper Joe Bendik
’s anger was evident, as any lip reader could tell you.) The team has confirmed that Smith won’t be starting against Columbus.
Midfielders Diego Chara
and Lovel Palmer
both also seemed misused during the Montreal game; Palmer found himself meanderingly defending a zone, rather than on offense, after a strong game dogging Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi.
Chara’s estimable defensive capabilities were wasted against a weak Montreal wing, and he did not reliably provide service into the box in a Portland offense that relies on service from its wings.
How Coach John Spencer
adjusts his team to meet these difficulties will be telling in the game against Columbus, especially with a pivotal injury to right defender Steve Purdy
. Currently, despite multiple possibilities on the left backfield, the right backfield has been making do with a player (Freddie Braun
) who has shown much more comfort in the midfield.
Columbus has not been a road threat in the past two seasons, they are hobbled by injuries, and their offense has been largely unproductive, producing only six goals this season.
If Portland doesn’t get this win, larger questions will loom about this troubled Timbers squad.